Trenton – Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the bill authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Vin Gopal requiring county governments to replace the title of “freeholder” with “commissioner,” erasing an outdated designation rooted in prejudicial attitudes and oppressive practices.
“As we work to bring justice and equality to all Americans we must recognize that symbolism matters,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The public job title of ‘freeholder’ perpetuates a legacy of bigotry that disenfranchised groups of Americans and denied them full rights and equal opportunities. We should be diligent in erasing all remnants of oppression that are unjust and divisive.”
The law, S-855, requires counties in New Jersey to change the title of “chosen freeholder” to “county commissioner” and “board of chosen freeholders” to “board of county commissioners.”
“Today’s decision to change the word freeholder to county commissioner is long awaited,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “In Monmouth County, where we have towns like Freehold Borough, Freeholder Township and Upper Freehold, not only will changing this tile avoid confusion and increase voter participation, it will tell women and our communities of color that the State of New Jersey does not associate itself in any way with these archaic values of the past. This is a proud day in our history.”
It also requires counties to update their letterheads, stationery, websites and other writings within one year, but it would not have them replace signs or other writings if it would require the expenditure of county funds.
The law is supported by current Freeholders in New Jersey, including:
“Gloucester County strongly supports and encourages the title change from ‘Freeholder’ to ‘Commissioner,’” said Gloucester County Freeholder Director Robert Damminger. “The name ‘freeholder’ in New Jersey is well past its expiration date. The history of this title is offensive and removing this type of language is an important step towards dismantling systematic racism in our country.”
“County Commissioner more appropriately aligns with and describes the work we do as leaders in Gloucester County,” said Gloucester County Freeholder Jim Jefferson. “We will embrace the new Office of Commissioner and as this becomes law, we will proudly serve all residents in our county with dignity and respect.”
“I applaud the effort of our Governor and State Legislature to immediately break ties with this obsolete terminology that was born out of exclusivity, misogyny, racism and privilege,” said Mercer County Freeholder Samuel T. Frisby Sr. “This shift in thinking shows many people are beginning to recognize that words have meaning and names have power. A name is not just a name, it tells people who you are, and Freeholders are not who we are nor how I want to be remembered. This is a good beginning, but there is much work to be done on our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion journey.”