Each October, Miller-Driscoll Elementary School 2nd graders visit Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Police Department to learn about municipal government, and their tour includes a meeting with the first selectman. Even though it was Lynne Vanderslice‘s second time greeting the students since getting elected in 2015, this year’s school field trip was as much a learning experience for her as it was for the students. She says they made such a big impact on her that it will change the way she leads the town.
“The first year they were very focused on the 2016 presidential election. This year’s big topic in almost every class was, ‘Why are you called the first selectman?’ I’ve gotten that question before, but not with as much interest as this year,” Vanderslice says.
The title ‘first selectman’ holds personal significance for Vanderslice, and she explained to the visiting classes that the term is unique to government in New England, where she grew up and so it meant a lot to her. But the children got her thinking–and prompted her to change her opinion.
“I’ve always worked in male-dominated professions, so for me to achieve success I wanted to keep that term because it meant a level of achievement to me. What I realized listening to the 2nd graders–and it wasn’t just the girls, it was the boys challenging me on continuing to use that term. By the fifth or sixth class, I said, ‘You’re causing me to rethink this.’ Why am I living in the past and not living in the future? So, as of Dec. 1, at the urging of the 2nd graders, I will be changing how I am referred to, and that will be as ‘First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.'”
Vanderslice plans to bring up the topic at the first meeting of the new Board of Selectmen in December after Deb McFadden and Lori Bufano are sworn in, joining currently seated selectmen Dave Clune and Michael Kaelin. With the majority of seats now held by women, Vanderslice’s title may not be the only name change in store.
“I did some research, and the term dates back even further than I thought. Obviously it was a time period when women didn’t even have the vote. The term originates from ‘selected men,’ so it really is steeped in the expectation that there will be no women on this board. I hope that we may be able to decide to be referred to in a different manner,” she explains.
In formal situations, the board has to be called by its legal name, as “Board of Selectmen,” because that’s how it’s referred to in the Town Charter. She will run the question by Wilton’s Town Counsel Ira Bloom, and perhaps the answer will come in the form of a gender neutral title, along the lines of ‘firefighter’ and ‘police officer.’ Even in Vanderslice’s home state of Massachusetts, a number of the boards are changing to ‘select persons,’ but she says it’s not a name choice she likes
“‘It’s not very personable. Of course we could base it on the majority and as of Dec. 1 that would be ‘Board of Selectwomen,'” she says, with a mischievous grin. “But that might get confusing if you have to change it every election. So maybe ‘Board of Select Women and Men’ might be more appropriate.”
For now, whatever name change is made would be used only for informal settings. Any more permanent solution would involve changes to the charter.
“Certainly the next time the charter is opened up I think that language should be changed,” says Vanderslice, adding, “As I think about the different boards, I think I’m right in saying that the Board of Selectmen is the only Wilton town board whose name excludes women.”
Creating a Town Flag
Wilton’s 2nd graders left their mark at Town Hall in another way.
“The other thing we always talk about when they come to my office is the two flags–the State flag and the US flag. One of the students in Miss Pampillonio‘s class asked, ‘Why don’t you have the Wilton flag up?’ I responded, ‘There isn’t a Wilton flag, to my knowledge, but I would love for you to draw your own flag and I would put it up next to the other flags. If your teacher wants to do that in your class, come up with a flag.’ I was thinking they’d work on one design together but to my absolute shock and delight, I received 43 flags for Wilton,” Vanderslice says.
The designs are displayed prominently on the wall of her office, and it’s clear she loves what the children have done.
“It was so exciting to get 43, and my office has become quite lively. And it’s really exciting to see how the kids view the town. I would be thrilled if, when I end as first selectwoman, my entire office is filled with drawings from 2nd graders. It is a wonderful break from my daily routine, and it’s important to hear what they think is important in town–they talk about recycling and other initiatives that they’re learning about in school, and that they recognize are important for the entire community.”
Vanderslice is proud of another piece of artwork hanging on her wall right behind her desk, something given to her by 2nd grader Shia Borelli. It’s a sketch of Vanderslice drawn by Shia’s dad, Marc Borelli, for the 6-year-old to present to the town’s top official during her visit.
Shia’s mom, Michele Shia, says that her daughter was over the moon to meet the woman in charge of running Wilton, and the sketch was just as important a gift to give as it was for Vanderslice to receive.
“We try not to be overly political in front of Shia (she is only 6) but she did know a lot about Hillary Clinton and enough age appropriate things about the election. I took her to vote with me. When I woke her up the next morning after election night and told her that Trump had won, Shia actually cried hysterically. It broke my heart to know that my little girl was devastated that a woman had not won and also that she was genuinely worried about how Trump was going to be. So I told her that she didn’t have to worry because we had a wonderful woman name Lynne Vanderslice who was taking care of all of us in Wilton. It made her feel much better. Anyway, my husband draws a picture every single day on Shia’s snack bag for school and camp. He draws her favorite characters, things that are going on in world and in the summer time he draws Gordy the Gator for when she is at the Y camp. The day before the field trip she told Marc that he HAD to draw a picture of Mrs. Vanderslice so she could give it to her. Shia was beside herself excited to go to the Town Hall and get to meet her. She even picked out her fanciest dress to wear there! Long story short, she had an awesome time on the field trip and we are so grateful for the note Ms. Vanderslice sent. It really meant so much.”