Legislation sponsored by New Jersey State Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) allows NJ county governments to adopt the inclusive title of “commissioner,” replacing the pre-revolutionary term of “freeholder” advances through the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.
In a Star-Ledger report, County Freeholders explained that the term “freeholder” was “anachronistic and offensive.” The term ‘freeholder’ is a pre-revolutionary term which explains that only a land-owning male, who was free of debt, could hold public office.
“New Jersey stands alone while other states have changed the position of freeholder to a commissioner, modernizes the position,” said Pennacchio. “When you have a title, which refers to men “free and clear,” you ultimately discourage individuals from participating in critical local government positions.”
A recent census by Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics shows that even though women represent half of New Jersey’s population only 29 percent of freeholders are women.
Senator Pennacchio’s legislation, S-402, will allow New Jersey’s 21 counties to adopt the title of “county commissioner” and “board of county commissioners,” replacing the pre-revolutionary term of “freeholder” and encouraging all residents to participate in their local governments.
The legislation heads to the Senate floor. A copy of Senator Pennacchio’s legislation can be found here.