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Burlington County Commissioner Felicia Hopson. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

Burlington County moves to change ‘freeholder’ title ahead of state measure

‘Retiring this relic title from a period of slavery is the right thing to do,’ Hopson says

By Nikita Biryukov, July 14 2020 2:33 pm

Democrats in Burlington County are moving to drop the term “freeholder” in advance of a legislative resolution doing the same.

“Governor Murphy and legislative leaders have endorsed the change, but Burlington County will not stand idly by and wait for change to be forced on us. Retiring this relic title from a period of slavery is the right thing to do and our county will lead the way in the implementation of this historic change,” Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson said.

The board will consider a resolution replacing the term “chosen freeholders” with “county commissioners” on the county’s website, social media and other documents at its Aug. 12 meeting.

If passed, freeholders would immediately stop using the term, which referred to debt-free landowners in early America, but some materials and signs would be phased out over time to avoid additional expenses related to their replacement.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have all signed onto a measure that would rename freeholders across the state to county commissioners.

A Senate panel will consider that resolution on Thursday, but the Assembly State and Local Government Committee has no committee meetings slated in the immediate future, though that could change at a moment’s notice.

“Continuing our work to end systemic racism must be everyone’s objective and eliminating an antiquated title from an era when slavery and racism was tolerated is one step we can take right away,” Hopson said. “Burlington County was a cradle of the abolitionist movement and home to several stops along the Underground Railroad, and we will once again lead the way by proactively eliminating this vestige of discrimination.”

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