HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Hunterdon County Freeholder and Raritan Township resident John Lanza said Gov. Phil Murphy is “nearly breaking his arm” because he’s “patting himself on the back so much” with COVID-19 testing capabilities statewide and the focus on the state’s operations and performance now four months into the pandemic’s brunt.
But the current “political correctness” issue making news and noise across the state, in line with social consciousness and dialogues corresponding to the Black Lives Matter movement and debates over potentially racially-biased terms, is the use of the county-level government official term “Freeholder.”
One Hunterdon County official took aim at the potential for state-level lawmakers in Trenton to change the term to “Board of County Commissioner,” which Lanza called a more mundane title compared to the historic term of “freeholder.”
Lanza added some shock value to the rhetoric and lack of discipline some Trenton politicians could continue as they push this name change forward while more pressing issues – including the stark reality of unemployment claims statewide and the shutdown of some sectors of operations and commerce – continue to hurt New Jersey residents day in and day out.
“Despite many more important priorities, this State Legislature is most likely going to approve changing a title from freeholder to county commissioner in its misguided pursuit of some kind of political correctness,” he said. “I found a quote from Sen. Shirley Turner, a Democrat and former Mercer County Freeholder, referring to the potential name change as an empty gesture. She called it that in the context of several other things she feels are more pressing and more important in several items she’s tried getting through the legislature over the last several years, and she is right.”
He said residents of Hunterdon County, looking at this freeholder board or whatever name the board is called going forward, can be assured the group of county-level elected officials will still be advocates and representation for the taxpayers.
“We will continue to hold the line on property taxes as we did this year in the budget, freezing the rate for a second consecutive year,” he said. “We will continue to have zero debt in Hunterdon County as we stated over the course of the last few months when we approved a ‘No Debt Capital Plan’ for the county for the sixth straight year. And we will ensure that necessary county services are delivered as efficiently and effectively as they’ve been over the course of the last several years as I’ve served on this board and had the privilege. A title change isn’t something our board will be too concerned about, as keeping Hunterdon County effectively serving the people is what we care about most.”
Lanza serves as the board’s representative on the New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC).
“This topic has gained attention from the media and much focus in Trenton,” he said. “The bill to change our freeholder titles is moving quickly through the legislative process. but changing our titles is what they’re worried about in Trenton? This is what they care about? The State Legislature just signed a blank check for Gov. Murphy, giving him the ability to borrow $10 billion more dollars that the state does not have and property taxpayers may be called upon to split the bill. There’s no plans for how much would be borrowed or how this will be spent. Moreover, the Constitution does not even allow this and there were no public hearings.”
“The legislation was rushed through and most legislators didn’t even have the chance to read the fine print, if they were so inclined to read it in the first place,” he added. “But in Trenton, our officials are worried about calling the board ‘freeholders’? All while businesses across New Jersey remain shuttered and unemployment continues to skyrocket.”
His colleague, Freeholder Zach Rich, liaison to the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, noted that, as of July 21, unemployment in Hunterdon County reached 13,219 people.
“The state government’s furloughs of employees that qualify for unemployment benefits while furloughed have pushed this number up, as in the southern part of Hunterdon County we have a heavy concentration of state employees,” he said. “Even without the state employees factored in, these numbers are way too high. Again and again our freeholder board has called for a regional opening of businesses that would allow more people to get back to work in our area, and part of the Workforce Development Board’s mission is to bring information on job opportunities and training resources to residents of the county and they have been doing a fantastic job, diligent in this effort.”
Lanza said there’s much to decipher that in Trenton, state lawmakers have a “lack of awareness of the pain being inflicted on businesses and jobs,” including due to Murphy’s executive orders.
“I am certainly glad Freeholder Rich had the role of reporting those numbers instead of me, because that amount is staggering,” he said. “The 16.6 percent is one out of every six people you will see out there. One out of six wants a job but they can’t get one. The State of New Jersey is failing to pay its unemployment claims, leaving thousands upon thousands of residents destitute. There’s a lack of understanding in Trenton that the state’s priorities should be fixing broken state systems.”
He turned his attention to the Motor Vehicle Commissions operations in New Jersey, for example.
“MVC’s are failing as people are waiting hours upon hours on line, and they wait in line because it is worth it to them to avoid the costs and fines of getting a high-cost ticket, it’s worth it for folks to miss a job for a day granted that they even have one to avoid risks of getting a ticket or to get their licenses restored, or to get registrations renewed,” he said. “But in Trenton right now they’re worried about calling us freeholders.”
He noted that Murphy recently explained New Jersey’s daily capacity for COVID-19 testing at 40,000 tests a day.
“The County Freeholder Boards have risen to the occasion to set up and authorize testing, the governor has not set up one single state-run COVID-19 testing facility, not one,” he said. “And for New Jersey’s long-term care facilities (including nursing homes and live-in rehab centers), oversight of which are the state’s responsibilities, thousands of residents died from coronavirus. State investigators have apparently done nothing wrong. But down in Trenton, they are worried about calling us ‘freeholders.’”