Chapel Hill: Opinion

March 25, 2014

Aaron Keck: Carrboro, I love ya, but ‘aldermen’s got to go

Dear Carrboro Board of Aldermen: I love you, but it’s high time you changed your name. “Aldermen” is dated. Passé. So 1996. And everybody knows it.

Dear Carrboro Board of Aldermen:

I love you, but it’s high time you changed your name.

“Aldermen” is dated. Passé. So 1996. And everybody knows it.

We live in a community where language matters, where people notice and shake their heads at the old signs of institutionalized misogyny. Carrboro has a lesbian mayor and a lesbian ex-police chief. It marks each Memorial Day with an antiwar protest. So many of its elected officials got themselves arrested on Moral Monday last year, they could have passed laws in the clink. And we still call them “alder-men”?

In Carrboro? Really?

It’s gotten so nobody even says it anymore. “Alderpersons,” we say instead. Or “Alderfolks.” Or “Alderbeings.” We’re so appalled by the real title, we actually invent fake words to avoid using it. Silly-sounding fake words, no less. And we look askance at folks who don’t play along. This can’t abide.

Things have fallen apart! The center did not hold!

Mere anarchy has been loosed upon Carrboro!

And now’s the time to do something about it. Carrboro’s doing well these days. The CVS fight is on hiatus, the day-laborer situation is coming along, and right now the hottest hot-button issue in town is what to do about downtown parking. (And even that’s not that big a deal.) Sooner or later there’ll be a new controversy, but for now the agenda’s light …

So let’s make it happen, Alderwhozits. Get it on the calendar. It’ll be easy. Quick. Painless. Snip-snap.

Only thing to do first is decide on a replacement name. It needs to be something good. Something catchy. Something Carrboro. And, something that’ll stand the test of time.

Lemme give you some options.

First and foremost: “Alder-whatever” has got to go. No Alderpersons, Alderfolks, Alderbeings, Alderanything. And not just because they all sound corny. We’ve all been patting ourselves on the back for saying “Alderpersons” – as if the “-men” was the only historically problematic part of that title. What about the “alder”? The word “alderman” derives from the Old English word ealdorman, “elder man.” It hearkens back to a time when authority was a function not only of gender, but also of age. It’s an archaic holdover from a fundamentally conservative system where laws were derived solely from tradition, where any challenge to established custom was deemed unacceptable on face. And hey, if that’s what you want, Carrboro, by all means go for it. But I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not.

So what’s left? The town charter says: “The governing body shall be known as the Board of Aldermen, Board of Commissioners, Board of Councillors, or Town Council.” Hillsborough’s already claimed “Board of Commissioners,” Chapel Hill’s got “Town Council,” so if you still want to be unique, “Board of Councillors” is the way to go. “Councillor” is a much better word anyway: it derives from the (gender-neutral!) Latin word concilium, which means a meeting, gathering, association, league or union. It signifies a coming together for a common purpose. It’s also the source of the word reconcile.

Come on, Carrboro! This is easy!

But if that doesn’t float your boat, you can always ask the General Assembly to amend the charter to give you more choices – and then the world is your oyster. Other places around the country have “boards of supervisors,” “common councils,” “boards of freeholders” or “chosen freeholders.” In Louisiana they have “police juries” for some reason. I’m just spitballing here.

And if that’s appealing, you might as well go all the way – and choose a title that’s truly and uniquely Carrboro. “Board of Weavers,” perhaps. Or, better yet: “Board of Ven’ables.” Venable and venerable, all in one. (The Latin root of “venerable” refers to love and beauty; it also gives us “Venus.”)

Or, pick a title that can stand as a constant reminder of our community’s progressive history. “Board of Herzenbergs,” for instance. Or “Board of Kinnairds.” “Board of Deans” or “Board of Fridays,” if you want a UNC connection. Or how about Harvey Gantt? Nothing would stick it to Jesse Helms quite like a “Board of Harveys” governing Carrboro in perpetuity.

So there you go. Personally, I’m for “Board of Councillors,” but our options are limited only by our imaginations. And seriously, something’s got to give. We’ve lived with “Aldermen” too long. We’re better than that. Carrboro’s better than that. (And we’re better than “Alderpersons” too.)

True, it may not be the most pressing issue in the world.

But I will still cheer the day when some new title, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Town Hall to be born.

Aaron Keck is the evening news anchor at WCHL 97.9 FM in Chapel Hill. Contact him at

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos