FREEHOLD – Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone spoke against a proposed name change for the Board of Chosen Freeholders, a decision that Trenton might make that will impact counties across the state.
The bill to replace the title “freeholder” with “commissioner” was originally proposed by Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, a Morris County Republican, in 2018. It never wound up passing.
Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, said the proposal was revised.
A joint statement by the three Democrats called for the change saying “As our nation tears down symbols of injustice, we must also tear down words we use in New Jersey that were born from racism. It’s past time for New Jersey to phase out the term ‘freeholder’ from our public discourse – a term coined when only white male landowners could hold public office.”
The Senate bill, S-855, passed in committee. The Assembly version, A-3594, has not yet been heard in committee. A bill has to pass through committee and then be brought up before the full body for a vote before the governor signs it into law.
Arnone said, “the announcement that the State has decided to change the title of county freeholders, in the middle of a pandemic, is mind blowing. This is not the time for grand standing, and changing the title of elected officials is not going to help anyone.”
“Not only will it not help, but changing the title right now is actually going to cost our taxpayers money, when so many are already struggling,” Arnone said.
He added, “we have businesses that cannot open, hundreds of businesses who are closing permanently, and more than 1.3 million people on unemployment, not to mention the thousands of residents who are being furloughed.”
Officials in counties across the Garden State have pointed out that to change the title of a freeholder, thousands of taxpayer dollars will need to be spent to update and change every sign, structure or material that bears the title. This is something that is going to take an incredible amount of time, effort and money to accomplish.
Arnone noted that there are countless issues that the State should be focusing on right now instead of this.
He added that “Monmouth County has remained focused on the important things – helping small businesses and residents who are out of work or in need of social services and mental health services.”
Changing the name to “commissioner” is problematic because that term is used for many unelected boards such as local board of public utilities and various other commissions, he said.
The “freeholder” name change is just one of the local changes being made or being proposed. The mascot for Howell Township High School changed from Rebel Yell to H and his appearance shifted from a Confederate soldier caricature to a side profile of a Revolutionary War soldier. In Ocean County, Toms River school district officials are being asked to change the name of the Toms River High School South “Indians.”
Freeholder Director Arnone said, “they say actions speak louder than words and the actions of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders have been and will continue to be done in the best interest of our residents – no matter what we are called.”