New Jersey’s freeholders are about to become extinct.
Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced today that they are behind a plan change freeholder to county commissioner, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Murphy and legislative leaders have agreed to move forward on legislation to change the title. This could happen before the end of the month.
The current plan is to make the change effective in 2021, so 2020 would be New Jersey’s last freeholder election, the Globe was told. That could change.
New Jersey is the only state that calls county officials “freeholders,” an old English term referring to a person who owned land without any debt.
“This is a good thing, it’s a racist and outdated term, but I’ll miss explaining it to people,” said Charlie Baranski, who sought the Democratic nomination for Morris County Freeholder in Tuesday’s primary, on Twitter.
It’s not immediately clear if legislative leaders will introduce their old bill, or use one introduced by Senate Minority Whip Joseph Pennacchio in 2018.
“New Jersey stands alone while other states have changed the position of freeholder to a commissioner, modernizes the position,” said Pennacchio. “When you have a title, which refers to men ‘free and clear,’ you ultimately discourage individuals from participating in critical local government positions.”
Murphy credited Union County Freeholder Angela Garretson “for her support and vision on this issue.”
Warren County Freeholder James Kern III wants to know how the new plan will affect the titles of other county-level commissioners.
“Hopefully these leaders work with county government,” Kern said. “The term commissioner already exists for county park commissioners, county bridge commissioners, county election board commissioners, county tax board commissioners, county mosquito control commissioners, and others.”
This story was updated at 3:27 PM to include comment from Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin, and at 4 PM with comment from Kern.