Director Vicari Objects to Proposed Change of Title “freeholder”
As the very title that defines county government in New Jersey has come under attack, the Director of Ocean County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders defended the “freeholder” term.
Amid nationwide pressure to eliminate terms and images that have been labeled by anti-police rioters and other cultural agitators as signs of “institutional racism,” Governor Phil Murphy together with the leaders of the state senate and assembly endorsed a bill that would change the position of “freeholder” to “commissioner,” saying the title was “coined when only white male landowners could hold public office.”
In an interview with Micormedia Publications, Ocean County’s Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari said that he felt the move was rash.
“The diversity of freeholders has never been more to what it is now in 2020. Do we change the name of the sheriff or governor? If you are going to change the name of freeholder, do you change the rest?” he said. “They never came to Ocean County or any county and asked us what our preference was. We picked up the paper one day and saw this is what the state wanted to do.”
Director Vicari noted that changing the title would also involve significant cost of re-labeling government documents and signage, urging that consideration should be left until after the COVID pandemic passes and to leave the matter to a ballot question.
Leaders of county government in New Jersey have been known as freeholders since colonial times and is the only state in the union to have preserved the title. The term has its roots in medieval England when landowners were incorporated into local government together with churchmen and nobility.
By the 18th century when boards of freeholders were established on American shores the term connoted someone who owned property as opposed to leasing and whose holdings were free of debt. A law passed in the New Jersey colony in 1713 called on inhabitants to gather yearly and “by the Majority of Voices, choose two Freeholders for every such Town.”
The term was codified into New Jersey’s state constitution in 1776 and the duties of “boards of chosen freeholders” were made law in 1798 including the maintenance of courts, jails, roads, bridges, and poor houses.
Till today, each of New Jersey’s counties is governed by a board of between five and nine freeholders.
“Is it an English term? Yes, but we have an English background here. I cannot change history,” said Director Vicari. He also pointed to statements by the late country Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr who defended the term against a prior assault by state legislators. At that time Freeholder Bartlett said that “to suggest the term freeholder is in anyway… [misogynist] or racist is downright insulting.”
Jackson Considering Ban on Short Term Rentals
The Jackson Town Council is considering a ban on short term rentals citing a “house party” attended by hundreds that drew negative media attention to the town.
According to the Asbury Park Press, the proposed ordinance would set a 30-day minimum on house rentals. Short term rentals have become increasingly common as internet based companies such as Airbnb facilitate such services. Other New Jersey towns have moved to make such bans and the state placed a tax on short term rentals facilitated through corporate providers.
The party billed as celebration of Liberian Independence Day drew over 700 guests and was marked by loud music. Agents from several departments came to the scene to break up the affair citing statewide bans on large gatherings aimed at fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus. Other large house parties around the state have been identified as scenes for spread of the virus.
The proposal is slated for consideration at the town council’s public hearing on August 11.
Lakewood Public Schools to Reopen in September
Lakewood’s public schools are set to open for in person instruction five days a week this coming September. The plan was approved as districts around New Jersey design how they plan to provide education which many opting for partially remote options or delayed openings.
Lakewood’s plan will have all of its 6,500 students on site each day, yet several modular units are being purchased to facilitate greater social distancing. Several other precautions are being put in place as well. Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings in the classroom and regular COVID testing will be administered. Classes will be kept together in one room for much of the day to avoid large groups of children from mixing. Bus drivers will take the temperature of children before admitted them.
In line with a statewide policy, parents will have the option of their children learning through remote access.
Governor Phil Murphy has been a strong proponent of finding safe ways to re-open schools citing testimony form educational experts about the limitations of remote learning. Teacher unions around the state, including Lakewood’s, have been skeptical of in-person learning plans saying they do not sufficiently ensure safety from the ongoing pandemic. Each district in the state has been given the freedom to design its own plan for the coming year taking into account the local health situation and needs of students.
Lakewood’s public schools are one of the only districts in the area to already be open for summer school classes.