It’s a new year. In 2014, things won’t be the same as they were in 2013, and certainly not the same as they were 150 years ago. That’s how it is with our Village charter, though.
Back in the 1800s, several affluent South Orange businessmen developed a unique charter, modeled after a corporate board of directors, with a president and “trustees” to rule our Village. Even when a movement to modernize local government swept through the Legislature in 1950, with the goal of making municipalities more efficient, and almost every other city or town adopted a so-called Faulkner Act form of government (mayor-council-administrator, or township committee with rotating mayor and administrator), South Orange stood silently by.
We are still governed by that ancient charter. The charter is holding is back.
If there is anything that South Orange is known for, regardless of which party, gender, race, or religion you claim, which neighborhood you reside in, or which local effort you volunteer for, it is that South Orange is progressive. That includes preserving our history. (Few are more interested in preserving our historic character than I.) We can be a leader in preserving our history and have a modern form of government. They are not exclusive.
It’s time to change the charter. The Board of Trustees is voting to change the charter Monday night, December 23rd (after the citizenry already approved the changes at the polls). Yes, the changes aren’t exactly what we need, mostly just the titles of officeholders, pronouns, and stipends for service. (I’m not even in favor of stipends; getting a small sum after one is elected won’t equalize opportunity in the process of getting elected across race, gender, age or class, despite the current Village president’s protestations to the contrary— his own election at 23 is proof of plenty of opportunity. Only campaign finance reform will accomplish equality of opportunity across the board.)
Nevertheless, it’s important to move on, not for change’s sake, but because we can and should improve our method of governing ourselves. We are not changing history. The history of our charter is still there, and we should be proud of it. And we should be proud of our ability to adapt to the times, too.
Please support charter change. And have a healthy and happy New Year!
Janine G. Bauer
Former Trustee (2009-2013)
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