MOUNT HOLLY, NJ -- Are you not totally sure what the title "County Freeholder" means? Soon you won't need to figure it out as the State and Burlington County is moving toward disbanding the antiquated term.
At Wednesday night's meeting of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, a resolution was unanimously adopted endorsing state legislation that would require counties to change the title of “Freeholder” and “Board of Chosen Freeholders” to “County Commissioner” and “Board of County Commissioners.” The freeholders’ resolution formally endorses the name change as a “corrective action to replace an outdated term” and that the new name reflects the state’s “diversity and inclusiveness.”
The little-known title of "county freeholder" is going to be a thing of the past under an agreement between Governor Phil Murphy and leading state lawmakers. The title that many, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, consider "mired in the language of slavery" will be changed to "county commissioner" as is the term in most other states.
Derived from an Old English term used to refer to a person who owned an estate of land, free of debt, the title was adopted in New Jersey during the Colonial period when only those who owned real estate free of debt were eligible to participate in elections or hold public office.
Currently, only New Jersey still uses the title “freeholder” for county elected officials.
Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson, who was one of the first county leaders to publicly support the change, said it was long past time for the term freeholder to be retired.
“The name is confusing to scores of residents who have no idea what a freeholder is and what level of government they represent, and its use is also a disturbing call back to an age when racism was an accepted institution,” Hopson said. “The name is confusing to scores of residents who have no idea what a freeholder is and what level of government they represent, and its use is also a disturbing call back to an age when racism was an accepted institution."
"It is important that we erase the terminology that reflects racist attitudes in order to eliminate the vestiges of discriminatory practices. Let's catch up with the rest of the world and call these officials who serve in public positions 'commissioners'," said Sweeney (D-Gloucester / Salem / Cumberland) who is a sponsor of the state legislation to make the title change.
The state legislation requiring the change was approved by the New Jersey Legislature on June 30 and is pending the signature of Governor Phil Murphy. There is currently no timeframe from the Legislature for when the change from Freeholder to Commissioner would take place.