NEW JERSEY — Governor Phil Murphy Friday signed legislation (S855), which requires the title of “chosen freeholder” to be changed to “county commissioner” and all “boards of chosen freeholders” to be known as “boards of county commissioners.” The bill also requires counties to update their letterheads, stationary, and other writings, as well as their websites, to bear the title of county commissioners in place of freeholders or chosen freeholders within one year of the bill’s effective date, January 1, 2021.
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 these cases, the title would be changed whenever the writing is next updated or replaced in the ordinary course of business.
“We have an obligation to ensure that governance in New Jersey is inclusive and representative of the tremendous diversity of our great state,” Murphy said. “Amid a national reckoning to reexamine vestiges rooted in structural racism, this action will eliminate the use of the term ‘Freeholder’ in county government— a title that is an outgrowth of a time when people of color and women were excluded from public office.”
“Changing the title of ‘Freeholder’ is long overdue. People know the term is offensive and refers to a time when only white male landowners could hold public office,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “As a former Freeholder, I was fully aware that this title was not inclusive of African American woman such as myself. History is constantly evolving, and our terminology needs to keep up with it to be more reflective of where we are as a society.”
“As a former freeholder, I believe it is important that the public knows the substance of what a freeholder does rather than what the term freeholder is,” Senator Joe Pennacchio said. “Today’s action was nine years in the making from when I initially proposed the abolishment of the antiquated term. The title ‘county commissioner’ will lend itself to transparency. This revamp will ensure more Garden State residents better understanding the function of this important position in county government.”