Goodbye freeholder, hello county commissioner.
After a long period of discussion, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill in August to revert to a new government title. That means freeholders, elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders, will now be known as commissioners, elected to the Board of County Commissioners.
“It periodically came up over the years, and I think it really got some traction across the state about a year and a half ago … We started to have conversations about it here in South Jersey around that same time, but it really didn’t end up having a whole lot of legs to it,” said County Commissioner Jonathan Young.
“But we started to have this unrest in America this past summer,” he added, referring to Black Lives Matter protests. “And so … it ended up being the time to do it. It was really all about persistence and good timing, if you can call unrest good timing.”
The former title was unique to New Jersey. The origin of the term “freeholder” dates back to America’s early days, when it may have had racist and misogynistic overtones.
“The original meaning of the word freeholder was that you couldn’t hold this office unless you held land free and clear,” Young explained. “So just by those standards themselves, we all know that women and people of color could not own property, so they weren’t able to be freeholders. So that’s where the name change came about and the purpose for the name change.
“I’m super proud for this to be a part of my legacy.”
The change does not alter the responsibilities or duties of county elected officials, but it does require the term freeholder to eventually be removed from all letterheads, signs and websites used by New Jersey counties.
“The intent of the law was not to cause any financial burdens on anybody, so we’ll ease into it with letterheads and business cards that change instantly,” Young noted.
“But as we go on from this point, we’ll change out those plaques and signs and what not that may be outdated. You’ll see that over a period of time, but we don’t know exactly what we’ll do with every sign and example at this point in time.”