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Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. (Photo: Princeton Public Library).

Mercer Executive expresses interest in looking at changes to county government

Hughes says that county party has suffered ‘secrecy, harshness, and detachment’

By Joey Fox, March 21 2022 10:41 am

In the wake of a New Jersey Globe article published last week investigating the possibility of the Mercer County Board of Commissioners switching to a district-based system, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes sent an email to the county Democratic committee saying that the committee should consider changes to the existing system.

“I believe the Mercer County Democratic Committee should discuss [the article] and consider changing the manner by which we elect county commissioners,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Mercer Democrats held their annual party convention and awarded the party line for two commissioner seats to incumbent Nina Melker and Lawrence Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis, meaning that the board will likely go without Latino and Asian American representation for at least another year.

The Globe article weighed the merits of switching from the current system, in which all seven commissioners are elected at-large to staggered terms, to a system with nine district-based commissioners; doing so could lead to increased representation for racial minorities as well as Republicans, who have been unable to win a county race in Mercer County since 2000.

In his email, Hughes also said that Mercer Democrats have not always lived up to their ideals of “transparency, openness, and dialogue.”

“Due to the global pandemic and apparent narrow political interests, it is clear that our party has suffered the scourge of secrecy, harshness and detachment,” he wrote. “Mercer Democrats must meet in live forums where we can discuss the truth about our divided political party, and how we can reconcile our differences so that we can once again operate as an entity to represent the interests of ALL Democrats.”

If the board of commissioners decides it wants to make a change, it could vote to put a referendum on the ballot directly asking whether to switch to a new system. Those outside the board could also work through the petition process: organizers could gather petition signatures to put a charter review commission on the ballot, and that commission would then recommend changes which would have to be approved once again by voters.

Click HERE to read the New Jersey Globe story on Mercer County Commissioner districts.  

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