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New NJ law makes changing municipal government harder

July 28, 2019

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A new law will make it more difficult for New Jersey municipalities seeking changes in their form of government.

The bill signed into law las week by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (with Gov. Phil Murphy away on business) changes the minimum number of required voter signatures to replace a municipality’s form of government, NJ.com reported.

Signatures for such measures must now constitute 25 percent of the total votes cast in the town during the last General Assembly election. Before, only 10 percent of the previous election votes were required. The measure also requires a supermajority, or two-thirds, of the governing body to approve placing the question on the ballot.

The bill supersedes the Mount Laurel Township council’s effort to change its local government from a partisan form to nonpartisan and move the election from November to May. The council voted 3-2, along Republican party lines, to place the question on the ballot this fall. Now, the council will need at least a 4-1 vote or a successful petition drive.

Democratic Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, one of three representatives from Burlington County who sponsored the bill, said the intent was to prevent a change of government from happening too easily.

“People need to realize that when they want to change a form of government, they cannot just do it at a whim,” Murphy said. “It has to be thought out, and it has to be what is right for each community.”

The Rutgers New Jersey Data Book indicates that 88 of the 565 New Jersey municipalities have non-partisan governments, but Murphy said she thinks that form of government doesn’t suit the current political environment.

“People are defined more by the party they relate to, the issues that they are fighting for, and the activism that they put out there,” Murphy said.

Mount Laurel Mayor Kurt Folcher said the council still wants to put the question to voters.

“This ordinance asks the voters for their preference — it is NOT a mandate. We want this referendum to occur on the November ballot,” Folcher said.

Folcher also disputed assertions that GOP members wanted to change the form of government to keep the local election from being tied to the 2020 general election.

“I’m a youth recreational basketball coach,” he said. “The only politics I practice is when I need to get a parent to run the clock during a game.”

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Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com

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