SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll has led Salem since 2006, but City Council agendas still list "Communications from His Honor the Mayor."
It's one of hundreds of male-specific references in city ordinances that officials want to make gender neutral.
"It's just timely and necessary," Driscoll said, "to make both the language of city legislation and ordinances, and the environment within our municipal buildings, consistent with the principles of inclusion."
Driscoll has called on the City Council to remove gendered language from the city's ordinances. The proposal would change 619 uses of gendered language. Among them:
-- He to they; his to their; him to them;
-- Chairman to Chair;
-- Fraternity houses to collegiate Greek system residences;
-- Heirs to beneficiaries;
-- His Honor to The Honorable;
-- Manhole to "maintenance hole (commonly referred to as manhole)";
-- Manmade to artificial; and
-- "Mr. President" to "an appropriate title and 'President'."
The proposal does not change 48 uses of gendered language in the city's charter — the document serves as the foundation for all of Salem's municipal operations — or another 26 in Salem's zoning code.
The matter is slated to be discussed at the council's ordinance committee meeting on May 13.
The filing comes as the City Council's "Mr. President" role is held by a woman for the third time in five years. Driscoll said City Council President Christine Madore served as the impetus to the order after filing a similar proposal in 2019.
"We have a mayor who is a woman, have had a mayor who is a woman for a very long time, but the city's ordinance still refers to a mayor who's a man," Madore said. "The same goes for city councilors and the council president. It's a small way to signal to our community members that regardless of how you identify, regardless of your gender identity, you can do any of these jobs."
The changes included so far "were all pretty straightforward," Driscoll said. The ordinances still have the same effects, and none required special triage from a pronoun change breaking the enforcement of the rule.
"Most of the language was the 'him' or the 'he,' whether you're referring to the mayor or any particular agency in the ordinance," Driscoll said. "The corrections were timely and not complex, but respectful of our values as a community and also the times. There are women serving our posts and non-binary individuals serving in positions, and we want to make sure their identities are recognized through our ordinances."
The zoning and charter changes were left out because of the complexity of those changes, Madore said. Changes to the charter — even a switch from "he" to "they" — would require forming a charter commission. Zoning changes also require additional public hearings.
Madore said some zoning changes that the City Council recently approved, like the new rules governing in-law apartments, were written with gender-neutral language.
Some have raised concerns about such sweeping changes interfering with the flow of government. For instance, City Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent suggested the change from "manhole" to "maintenance hole" could confuse emergency responders "looking for a maintenance hole, when you're really wanting a manhole."
As for the reasons behind the changes, Madore, who led the ordinance committee and work on her order in 2020, said Councilor Patti Morsillo, the committee's current leader, has explained it well.
"I remember when I was chairing OLLA, she made a comment where the two women on this committee were being told by our male counterparts, 'what if this happens?'" Madore said. "She made a comment that stayed with me this whole time: we're just simply asking for some dignity in our ordinances, recognizing that there are a lot of women who contribute to public service."