How long will it take Philly to go from ‘councilman’ to ‘councilmember’?

Lawmakers have mixed feelings about the new language.

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Max Marin / Billy Penn
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In the corridors of City Hall, each lawmaker has a matching placard outside their door. What doesn’t match: the titles they display — Councilman Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Councilmember Allan Domb.

For many Philadelphia officials, the honorific they use changes from place to place.

“The placard outside my office says councilmember, my oath of office says councilperson and my business card says councilman,” noted at-large Councilmember Derek Green.

The inconsistency may not last long. Philadelphia voters have OKed a ballot measure to move toward gender-neutral language for our lawmakers in City Hall. That means goodbye to “councilman” and hello to “councilmember,” a taxonomic change other peer cities have already adopted in the name of both simplicity and inclusion.

Although the ballot question passed easily in the May election, the road to compliance looks a bit bumpier. And some in Council aren’t as thrilled as others about their new voter-mandated title.

Green, who sponsored the resolution that pushed for the inclusive language, said lawmakers need to introduce additional legislation to unify the language in the city’s various codes and books. According to him, the legislative body is shooting for an official date of January 2020 for the changes to go into effect. At least three new councilmembers will take office at that time, and their literature will reflect the new gender-neutral era in City Hall.

As for the older councilmembers? That might take more time, more money — and a lot of adjustment.

It’s ‘Councilwoman Parker’ — and just call him ‘Mark’

Cherelle Parker is the only lawmaker surveyed whose office said she still favors the gendered title.

“Personally, Cherelle still prefers Councilwoman, but supports the change in the Code and any of her colleagues who prefer the gender neutral title,” Parker spokesperson director Solomon Leach wrote in an email.

As for Mark Squilla, he just wants you to just call him Mark. “He is not very big on the title,” said his aide Sean McMonagle.

Green, Helen Gym, Curtis Jones and Allan Domb are among those who said they absolutely prefer “councilmember” going forward. Their offices are in the process changing their literature, signage and logos to reflect the change — if they haven’t already done so.

“I’ve used Councilmember instead of Councilwoman for over two years,” Gym said. “Yes, using new language takes some getting used to, and there are times when someone uses Councilwoman still, but people adapt quickly and it helps build a more welcoming and inclusive city for all of us.”

Gym also has all staffers include her pronoun preferences in their email signature (“she/her”).

“I am just happy to be in Council!” said Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who’s hot off a narrow re-election victory last week. “It will take shifting over time, but Councilmember or Councilperson is OK.”

Cindy Bass said “councilwoman” or “councilmember” works for her. Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson both said they have no personal preference. But since the ballot measure was adopted, they’re each planning to use councilmember going forward.

We’ll update when we hear back from Darrell Clarke, David Oh, Brian O’Neill and Al Taubenberger.

Changing Twitter handles?

The changes to physical materials — from office placards and business cards — will come out of Council’s budget, but it’s unclear at what cost. The Council President’s office could not be reached for comment.

Beyond the physical changes are the many updates that’ll need to made to City Council’s growing online presence, from the chyrons on the city’s GovTV channel to the way members and staff use social media to engage city residents.

Patricia Gillett, digital director for the chamber, said the plans are call for incorporate gender-neutral language to phlcouncil.com during a scheduled site overhaul in December, though changes can be accommodated sooner at individual members’ request.

“We’ll be archiving at least three sets of member pages (for those retiring) and building out new sets for incoming members [at the end of the year],” Gillett wrote in an email, “so it makes sense to do the site-wide changes then.”

Gillett noted her team has already begun using the term “councilmember” on social media, except when tagging a lawmaker’s social media account that doesn’t have it.

Johnson’s Twitter handle, for example, is @CouncilmanKJ, while Green’s is still @CouncilmanDerek.

Changing to those handles is up to the individual legislator.

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