2018-08-16 / Front Page

City wants to make charter gender neutral

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO – The city council is proposing an amendment to the city charter that would change its language from masculine to gender neutral. The charter reads with he/ his pronouns, and if the amendment were to pass, wording would shift to they/them.

As the city does not have a charter commission, it uses council to facilitate amendments, which need to be approved by the council prior to being voted on by residents during the Tuesday, Nov. 6 midterm elections.

According to Mayor Marston Lovell, the idea of introducing gender neutrality was brought about by City Administrator Kevin Sutherland when he was hired thee years ago. It was a proposed change that was dormant until this year.

The idea was met with council support, however there was discussion as to the best way to meet this goal. One option was to put an amendment at the beginning of the charter as a kind of disclaimer that would state that any use of the masculine pronoun within the charter refers to any gender, and cannot be used to infer discrimination. Upon further discussion, it was decided that a change would be made across the charter to alter the pronouns to the plural they/them. 17 sections of the charter will be amended to reflect this change.

Currently, in the charter, any references to the mayor are masculine. The amendment will allow statements to shift into a neutral tone, for example, where the charter says in Article 2, section 2.03, “The Mayor shall be a resident and qualified voter of the City of Saco, and shall remain so during his term of office…” the statement will now read “Shall remain so during their term of office.”

While they/them/their is considered to be a non-binary pronoun – for those who do not conform within the two historically recognized genders – Lovell said he has had feedback that while people are in support the introduction of gender neutrality, they are concerned about the grammatical correctness. Lovell suggested that there may be a solution in replacing some of the pronouns with titles to avoid confusion where parts of the charter refer to the mayor and council together, such as replacing “they will,” which could indicate the mayor and council together, with “the mayor will.”

“I am completely in favor of gender equality and changing the charter,” Lovell said. “I just think it should be done in a way that is also grammatically correct.”

While the city of Saco has never had a female mayor, Lovell thinks that it may not be so far in the future.

“When I served on council, I served with some amazing women. Women have an influential voice in the council. It wouldn’t surprise me to see (former councilors) Bette Brunswick or Peg Mills run for mayor, I think they’d be great,” Lovell said. “Who knows, in a few years maybe it’ll be (current councilor) Lynn Copeland.”

Copeland, the councilor for Ward 4, is the council resource for the amendment, and believes that this change in charter is “hugely important.”

“We need to recognize that women are part of this government too,” Copeland said.

According to a study prepared by the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, of 1,365 mayors in the United States, only 297 are female. The state of Maine currently has one female mayor, Samantha Paradis of Belfast, but has never had a female governor, a statistic that could change if Janet Mills, a Democrat, is elected governor in November.  Her opponent is Republican Shawn Moody. In Saco, Copeland is the only woman on the council. Locally, Biddeford has two female councilors, Ward 5 Councilor Victoria Foley and Councilorat Large Laura Seaver, and the town council for Old Orchard Beach is all male. The charters for both Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach uses “his or her” while referring to town councilors, however the Biddeford charter uses masculine language when speaking about the mayor.

“I would encourage all women to run for public office. Our perspective is needed at the table,” Copeland said. “It’s our time.”

The amendment will go before the council for public comment and then a second reading prior to being placed on the November ballot.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.


Saco is proposing a series of changes to its charter, including a transition to gender neutral language. Other amendments on the table are a proposal to increase the council term to three years and stagger the years each ward votes for its councilor, the proposition of the mayor presiding over both council and school board, a revision of necessary departments, and clarification on the publishing notice for public hearings on the budget.

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