Throwback Thursday: Commissioners, managers and mayors: The many governments of Cherry Hill Township
Since the formation of the township in 1844, the governing body has had a lot of different forms and positions.
For the past 30 years, Cherry Hill Township’s municipal governing body has consisted of a full-time mayor and seven council members, all of whom voters elect directly to four-year terms.
While this form of government may be familiar to Cherry Hill residents today, the township actually operated under other forms of government for more than 100 years. Since the formation of the township in 1844, there have been numerous changes to the town’s governing body.
“Cherry Hill: A Brief History” gives a good description of how government operated in the early days of what was then Delaware Township. The book’s author, Mike Mathis and Lisa Mangiafico, write the township committee form of government was in place in Delaware Township for more than a century from 1844 to 1951. Up until 1877, the committee only held meetings once a year. From 1878 to 1900, meetings were held “pursuant to the call of chair.” In 1901, the committee began holding monthly meetings. In 1924, the meetings expanded to twice a month.
For many years, there were only three members on the township committee. The committee expanded to five in 1929.
In a special election on May 29, 1951, the township changed to a commission form of government. In this form, township residents elected three, at-large commissioners. The three commissioners then chose a mayor among themselves. From 1951 through 1963, Christian Weber served as the township’s mayor.
Shortly after the township’s name changed to Cherry Hill, the municipality had another large change. In November of 1962, voters elected to change the government to a council-manager Plan A form. Voters would elect five people to serve on council. Council would then select one of their own to serve as mayor. A township manager was appointed to oversee township operations. The first mayor to serve under the current form of government was John Gilmour, who had previously served as one of the township’s three commissioners from 1959 to 1963.
In 1975, the government underwent another slight change to a council-manager Plan B government. This new form expanded council from five to seven seats. Terms were also set so council elections would take place every other year. The mayor was still chosen among the members of council and the township manager still oversaw township operations.
It wasn’t until 1981 when the township’s present form of government began to take shape. A 1981 referendum resulted in the government being changed to a mayor-council form. In this form, a full-time mayor was directed elected by the voters for a four-year term. The mayor was also responsible for overseeing day-to-day township operations. The seven-seat township council remained, with members being elected to four-year terms. Elections would take place every other year, with three or four council seats being up for election.
The final change in government took place in 1986. Up until this year, elections in the township were nonpartisan and took place in May. A referendum was approved in November of 1986, changing elections to partisan and moving them to Election Day in November, where they remain today.
The committee, commission and council-manager forms of government may be history in Cherry Hill, but these forms of government still exist in many other South Jersey towns. Neighboring towns such as Haddonfield, Haddon Twp. and Collingswood still have a three-person commissioner government with nonpartisan elections in May. In addition, a number of Burlington County towns still have a council-manager form of government, including Mt. Laurel, Moorestown and Maple Shade.