Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. says he has been a freeholder for a long time and he plans to continue to be a freeholder despite state legislative efforts to change the elected office title to "commissioner."
During the Board's April 18 public meeting, Bartlett who is the longest sitting freeholder in the state serving 39 consecutive years, said he finds the proposed legislation disturbing.
"We have been the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders since the County was founded in 1850," Bartlett said. "It pains me to think the state Senate has before it a bill that would change the name to a Board of Commissioners."
Bartlett noted there is already an abundance of Boards of Commissioners in the state of New Jersey. In Ocean County alone, there is at least 12 commissions with well over 100 non-elected commissioners.
Some municipalities are governed by commissioners and there are numerous commissioners serving in the Governor's cabinet.
"Commissioner is an overused term," he said. "This state is already rife with commissions and commissioners.
"What's wrong with the term Freeholder?" he asked. "This has been used in New Jersey since Colonial times."
Bartlett wondered if the title was being caught up in the frenzy of pulling down statues and monuments that while they may not be appropriate today are still a part of history.
"To suggest the term freeholder is in anyway sexist or racist is downright insulting," Bartlett said. "It makes no sense."
He added that in addition to attempting to change its history, there is also a cost factor involved in changing all the signs on County buildings, parks, trucks, stationary and other areas.
"All of this money would have to be spent and all these changes would have to be made because someone thinks that the name is archaic and old fashioned," he said. "The proposed legislation is nothing short of looking for a reason to be politically correct, to tear down the past and make it sound like it doesn't count."
Bartlett, a retired history teacher, mentioned that the County in 2017 and again in 2018 has made an effort to recognize World War I and the County's role in it.
"We have decorated our courthouses, held ceremonies and will plant a tulip poplar tree in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the first war," he said. "We do these things because we honor history.
"We honor the past," he said.
He added that over time we have hopefully improved upon our history.
"But it doesn't mean you throw away the past," he said. "That bothers me the most."
Bartlett added that he may request a formal resolution from his colleagues on the Board of Freeholders opposing the change from freeholder to commissioner.
Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said New Jersey has enough problems to deal with from pension systems that are going broke, roadways that need improvements, 10 credit downgrades from the credit rating agencies, an education funding crisis and taxes that are nearly the highest in the country.
"And this proposed legislation is what the state wants to spend it's time on," Little said. "It diverts attention from the real problems to a superfluous issue."
"The state has enough problems," Little said. "This proposed legislation is a ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money."
The legislation is proposed by state Senators Joseph Pennacchio of the 26th District and Jeff Van Drew of the First District.
The legislation renames "board of chosen freeholders" to "board of county commissioners" and "freeholder" and "chosen freeholder" to "county commissioner" and requires counties to update materials to reflect this title change.
"I've been a freeholder for a long time," Bartlett said. "And I intend to stay one for a long, long time."