Our View

Civics takes the spotlight

Our View Civics takes the spotlight

Jackson residents who believe their growing community should have a directly elected mayor may have the opportunity to make that happen at some point in the future.

Representatives of an organization dubbed VOTE (Voters Organized To Elect our mayor), want to change the form of government to ensure that representation on the governing body comes from all sections of the town.

If it accomplishes nothing else, VOTE may succeed in educating residents — many of them new to Jackson and new to New Jersey — about the form of government Jackson has now and the options available.

During a recent public meeting, Robert E. Schiappacasse, the group’s spokesman, explained Jackson’s current form of government and the change that VOTE will advocate.

Under the existing Township Committee form of government there are no restrictions on where a committee member may live. All five could live in the same neighborhood. The committee members elect a mayor from among themselves each January to serve for that year. Typically, the person selected as mayor is a committee member who will be up for election that year.

In that way, the mayor’s name is kept in the news. In fact, that person has no more or less power than any of the other four committee members.

Under the change proposed by VOTE, Jackson’s governing body would be comprised of a mayor directly elected by voters and nine council members. Each person would be elected to four-year terms on a two-year rotating basis in May.

Furthermore, Jackson would be divided into wards. Six council members would represent wards and three council members would be elected at-large. That way, VOTE claims, every section of town would have its interests represented on the governing body.

Schiappacasse said he did not know how much the proposed change in the form of government would cost. That should be one consideration for residents who may want to consider changing the form of government.

At present, the mayor, a part-time official, is paid about $9,000 per year. The other four members of the Township Committee are paid about $8,400 each. That total is $42,600. It seems apparent that under the form of government VOTE is proposing, the mayor alone will be paid more than that. The salaries for the council members would be an additional expense for taxpayers.

VOTE volunteers say they will be going around Jackson in the near future attempting to secure the signatures of registered voters so that a question can be placed on the ballot asking residents if they want to change the form of government.

A meaningful discussion of the possible benefits of making such a change is warranted before anyone can make an intelligent decision on a proposal that could have far-reaching implications for the municipality.

The Township Committee may inject itself into the debate by introducing an ordinance that would create a charter study commission. That commission would consist of five residents who would be elected by voters in November and would study alternative forms of government over a nine-month period and then make their recommendations to the committee as to whether any particular one should be adopted.

Some people have said New Jersey residents don’t pay enough attention to civic matters. It appears that in Jackson, all residents — not just those with a stake in the political process — will be asked to do just that in the coming months.