COURT HOUSE - Effective Jan. 1, 2021, the Board of Chosen Freeholders will be re-titled and officially called the Cape May County Board of Commissioners.
According to release, considered offensive by many, the name change has been a topic of discussion for the past decade; in 2018, the first bill was introduced in the Assembly to make the change but never passed. That changed in August 2020.
The county's 2021 Reorganization Meeting and swearing-in of Will Morey and Jeffrey Pierson Jan. 6 will be the first time they will be officially called "Cape May County commissioners."
The term "freeholder" originally was defined as a person who owned land free of debts or legal claims, and in the colonies, only freeholders could hold office. The position was held by white, male landowners. The term dates back to New Jersey's original constitution, in 1776.
In pre-Revolutionary New Jersey, appointed or elected freeholders, along with justices of the peace, appointed tax collectors and oversaw county business that included maintaining the poor and building and repairing the ponds and bridges. While the services they provide have changed and expanded over the years, the name remained. The consensus was to change the name to better represent the people of New Jersey, be more inclusive in county government, and invoke political correctness.
After passing in the Assembly and the Senate, in July 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill in August that changed the name, effective Jan. 1, 2021. The law served to eliminate the freeholder designation, creating the formal name as Board of County Commissioners, and each elected member will be called county commissioner. New Jersey is the last state in the nation to use the term freeholder; no other state uses that name to describe elected county officials.
"We have started the transition to change the name "freeholder" on our official documents, letterhead, and signage. The public will start to see the name change beginning Jan. 1, with larger signage and references on public facilities changed within the next few months," stated Gerald M. Thornton, freeholder director.
"After 40 years in government, it will be tough getting used to the new title. We recognize the need and will work together to make the change a smooth transition. Be assured that the work of the Board of County Commissioners will continue to provide the residents of Cape May County outstanding services and protection for all," Thornton added.