Tuesday night’s Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting may be one of its last — at least as Aldermen.
For the first time since a 1969 bill changed the board from Commissioners to Aldermen, Carrboro may have a new name for its governing body. At the meeting, town lawmakers directed staff to prepare a resolution for next week changing the board’s name to “Town Council.”
Motivating the name change, Board of Alderman member Randee Haven-O'Donnell said, is a desire to make the board's moniker gender-neutral.
“Some of us who’ve been sitting on this board felt the pinch of being referred to as Aldermen, and I’m saying that because folks don’t realize that the gender neutral matters,” Haven-O’Donnell said.
Another motive for the change, Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils said, is making the language more accessible to Carrboro residents.
“I think we found in conversations with folks and online, and certainly talking to folks while knocking on their doors during the campaign over the last several months, I found myself saying ‘Town Council’ more than ‘Board of Aldermen,’” Seils said. “That’s what people understood.”
According to the town’s charter, the board may be called a Board of Aldermen, Town Council, Board of Commissioners or Board of Councillors — though other names are possible, it would require action by the General Assembly.
The board sought feedback from community members, encouraging people to weigh in on naming options or to suggest their own.
Suggestions included shortening “Aldermen” to “Alders” or making no change at all, but the vast majority of people suggested “Town Council.” Almost three-fourths of people voted for the change in an informal poll on Seils’ Twitter page.
Discussion at Tuesday's meeting also revolved around the lack of diversity on Carrboro's advisory boards.
“We know what voices are not at the table,” Board of Aldermen member Barbara Foushee said at their meeting Tuesday. “And those are the voices that we should be in search of.”
The board was supposed to review the advisory board application, but the discussion ultimately focused on the factors that may prevent people from applying. They pointed to a lack of support for board members who are elected and a lack of outreach to the public about position openings.
Carrboro residents who have kids may not be able to go to all of the meetings because of childcare. Another obstacle is time: around 60 percent of Carrboro residents stated that they didn’t have the time to serve on an advisory board, Carrboro Town Clerk Catherine Dorando said at Tuesday's meeting.
“Our issue here is not the application,” Seils said. “I think it's more about the process and the ability of everyone in the community feeling like they can participate.”
A solution, Seils said, could be providing training to new board members, offering childcare or giving board members a stipend.
On the other hand, Board of Aldermen member Bethany Chaney talked about the boards’ own failures at promoting diversity across all the advisory boards.
“When we are not saying that it is more important for us to diversify our boards than to have every seat filled, we are the problem,” Chaney said. “We just go ahead and fill that seat, but it’s up to us to go out and find somebody different to fill the seat.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.