Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholder Charter Reform

NAACP wants freeholder districts in Bergen County

Friday, December 20, 2013    Last updated: Friday December 20, 2013, 8:37 AM

The Record

The Bergen County chapter of the NAACP wants county government to consider a charter change in which each freeholder would represent a slice of the county.Currently all seven freeholders are elected at large to represent all 70 towns in the county.

But the NAACP urged the freeholders this week to consider a nine-member board with each freeholder representing a district with an equal number of voters.That would create a better connection between each freeholder and the towns they serve, Bergen NAACP President Anthony Cureton said Thursday.

It would also give minority voters who tend to cluster in some of the county’s towns a better chance of electing one of their own, he said.”No one knows what a freeholder does,” Cureton said. That could change under a district system, he said.

Freeholder Chairman David Ganz was noncommittal, saying he could see the pros and cons of the argument. He suggested that a hybrid system also be considered, with some at-large freeholders and others representing districts.

Cureton said the proposal was not meant as criticism of the past or current freeholders.Rather, he said, it’s meant to create a system that would be more representative.

He noted that most of Bergen County‘s African-American community is concentrated in Englewood, Teaneck and Hackensack. He said other groups such as Koreans, Hispanics and Indian-Americans tend to be concentrated within other towns.

Elected officials from some of those communities said they felt the idea merited further discussion.

Jason Kim, deputy mayor of Palisades Park, which has a large Korean-American population, said the idea was “intriguing” but needed to be examined on a countywide basis.

“The reason why the United States is so great is that we have a democratic process,” Kim said.

But he wondered if freeholders elected on a districtwide basis would remain focused on the big picture of what happens in the county.

Jorge Nunez, a councilman from Bogota, said the proposal “is obviously something that we’ve got to take a look at.”

Nunez cited the changing demographics in the county, where minority groups are among the fastest-growing segments of the population.

Bergen County Republican GOP Chairman Bob Yudin was skeptical, saying he would need to study the idea more closely. He said one question would be who would decide how district lines would be drawn.

County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato said the idea of electing freeholders by district is something he could support and that it should be considered.

“At first glance it sounds like a good idea”, Stellato said, adding that he will discuss it with party members and elected officials.

Cureton said his chapter plans to hold a meeting with other groups in January to discuss the idea. He said his understanding is that any charter change would have to be approved by voters.

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