It's all in the name or is it?

On Thursday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D), Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) all backed a plan that would change the name of County Freeholder to County Commissioner effective in 2021, as first reported by the New Jersey Globewho added that New Jersey is the only state in the nation that calls these county representatives Freeholders.

It was also confirmed by Governor Murphy on Twitter who dove into why he believes the name Freeholder should be changed.

The Collins Dictionary defines the word Freeholder as "someone who owns the freehold to a particular piece of land."

There is a piece of legislation awaiting approval (since January of 2019 but has been talked about for years) from the Assembly and Senate in New Jersey which would change the name from "Chosen Freeholder" to "County Commissioner" and would also "require counties to update their letterheads, stationary, and other writings, as well as their Internet websites, to bear the title of county commissioners in place of freeholders or chosen freeholders within one year of the bill’s effective date.  The bill would not require counties to update or replace signs or other writings to reflect this title change within this timeframe if doing so would require the expenditure of county funds.  In such a case, the title would have to be changed whenever the writing is next updated or replaced in the ordinary course of business."

NJ Advance Media secured a copy of a joint statement put out by Governor Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin on Thursday.

“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. This is not a matter of political correctness; it is a corrective action to replace an outdated designation that is rooted in institutional prejudice.”

Locally at the Jersey Shore, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone issued a statement on behalf of the Freeholder Board in Monmouth County on Friday.

“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. 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. 

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.  

There are countless issues that the State should be focusing on right now, including the complete mess we have had with the Motor Vehicle Commissions reopening and getting our residents back to work.

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.

The County is partnering with the Grunin Foundation to provide testing services to residents in more densely populated urban areas, committing up to $250,000 of CARES Act funding. 

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.”

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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