Melillo: Selectman or Selectwoman is Fine, but Selectperson or Select Board are Boring and Stale

Letter to the editor from Andrew Melillo

There was an interesting article on the front page of the Greenwich Time on Friday discussing the possibility of changing the name of First Selectman to Mayor.

Since the 17th century the people of Greenwich have voted for Selectmen to be the leading citizens of the town and to govern it.

It is the traditional New England form of government. Greenwich was, is and will always be a part of New England. Selectman is a New England thing. To suggest we should change it because it is a New England thing, rips Greenwich away from its roots and its present geographical location. It is unarguable that the New York City economy is a big factor into the wealth of Greenwich and Fairfield County. It is also unarguable that Greenwich as a border town with the State of New York, also makes interaction and movement of New Yorkers in and out of town more prevalent than in other Connecticut towns – that is not to be refuted. This does not mean, however, that Greenwich must become something it has never been: a city, a mayoralty or a non-New England town.

If a person wants to be called Selectman or Selectwoman based on their gender, fine – that makes sense. Selectperson? Fine, but it boring and stale – as is Select Board.

The title Mayor reminds one of urbanization, cities, city taxes, a city charter – a boss – and not a representative leader. Mayor does not make one think of a town, a local government, but a bumbling bureaucratic behemoth.

If there are those who desire to be big city bureaucrats or to be styled or titled like them, they are free to move to Westchester County and pay Westchester property tax rates and county taxes and help further develop the urbanization efforts there. Greenwich should stay true to its history, its character and to its tradition of local town government. It is a government that has always been run by leading citizens of the town, and one which has always sought to be receptive and answerable to the people – something Mayors and large urban centers can never provide their constituents. A town government is accessible – a city bureaucracy is often unaccountable and difficult to govern efficiently and economically.

What is next after changing the name of First Selectman to Mayor? Change the town charter to a city charter? Pay city taxes? Create a new master plan that promotes urban development where picket fences and homes once used to be? There is no need to change the title that has been in effect for nearly 400 years. It goes against the town’s history and the town’s roots. If a selectman wants to adapt the title to more accurately reflect their gender, that is the commonsense approach. It should not be permanently changed. Greenwich is a New England town, and that is why it has, like most of the other towns in Connecticut, a Board of Selectmen.

To argue that the title should be changed to Selectperson or Mayor because people don’t know what it is, or that it is more inclusive, is not a strong argument. People know what a First Selectman is, and if they do not, they probably do not vote often or need to start paying attention more. First Selectman is a widely used term by hundreds of towns across New England and elsewhere.

And as to the notion of helping young people be aware of what they can achieve, the best evidence as to who can run for First Selectman of a town is by witnessing those who have ran, won and who hold that office. Right now two of the three Selectmen are women. What more knowledge and evidence does one need to know, “Hey, if they can do it, so can I?”

And changing the title will attract families to the town? Where is the evidence to back up that claim? People move to town because of property values, school systems and
town amenities. Not because they have a mayor or a selectperson as their chief executive. People do not immigrate to America because we have a President and not a Prime Minister.

Titles are important but the focus should be on other things, such as: the person’s intent, action, achievement, and hard work. A title is nothing without these things. Getting labels correct is a useful exercise, but it is not the most important factor. You can call a dictator “dear leader” – but it won’t make them a better person or a better leader and it won’t change people’s minds to move to that place either.

As a town society, the people of Greenwich must stay true to its heritage and to its character, while shaping a new future that is a better society than the one they inherited. Changing the title to Mayor does not do this.

The title is also secondary to the person behind it – for it is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles. The town should be focusing on the people behind the title and what they do with the public’s trust and welfare, rather than if a word or title should be used or not used or changed. Greenwich is a New England town, it is not a city – it does not need a mayor because it has a great First Selectman.

The title has been used just fine for the last 400 years. First Selectman or First Selectwoman. Nothing else. It should not be changed.