Contributed to OurSociety by Donna Russo
Local government in New Jersey is composed of counties and municipalities. These counties together contain 565 municipalities, or administrative entities composed of clearly defined territory; 250 boroughs, 52 cities, 15 towns, 244 townships, and 4 villages. With five types and twelve forms of local government (plus several non-standard forms in municipalities with special charters), some areas of New Jersey are administered significantly differently from other states. To make matters more complex, New Jersey also distinguishes between regional, consolidated, and county-wide school districts and school districts that serve only a single municipality.
There are 21 counties in New Jersey. These counties together contain 565 municipalities, or administrative entities composed of clearly defined territory; 250 boroughs, 52 cities, 15 towns, 244 townships, and 4 villages.
Each type of municipality has equal legal standing, rights, and powers as any other type or form. Unlike other parts of the United States, New Jersey does not have different tiers of power or legal standing for its municipal governments.
The borough form of government is New Jersey’s most common, being used by over 200 of the state’s municipalities.
In this form of government, a mayor is elected at-large plus eight council members – two from each of four wards. The mayor presides over council meetings and votes as a member of the council. The mayor has veto power over ordinances that can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the council. All appointments to municipal offices are performed by the council. Currently, only nine of the state’s 15 towns still have the town form of government.
The township form of government has a group of elected of cials (the township committee) which serves as both the executive and legislative authority. The township committee has either three or five members elected at-large. Every year, the committee chooses one of their members to be the “mayor”, becoming the moderator for meetings of the township committee but having no special powers. In general, all legislative and executive powers are exercised by the committee as a whole. The committee, however, may appoint an administrator to oversee day-to-day operations of the municipality. The township form of government is only available to municipalities that are of the township type. Out of the 246 townships in the state, the township form of government is used by 144 of them.
This form consists of a five-member Board of Trustees elected for staggered three-year terms. The board selects a president and a treasurer from among the members. While there are four municipalities that retain the Village type of government (Loch Arbour, Ridge eld Park, Ridgewood and South Orange), none of them still use the Village form of government.
HOW ARE LAWS MADE IN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT?
Local laws, usually called ordinances, are made much in the same way State and Federal laws are made. The local legislative body (such as town council, city council, etc.) sees a demonstrated need for controlling a situation that is particular and unique to their jurisdiction. If they cannot find a State or Federal law that applies to their problem, they can pass a local law to control it. This local law (ordinance) must NOT conflict with any State or Federal law that exists or it could be successfully challenged in court.
A good law is one that works and benefits the people who must abide by that law. Assuming that by “good” we mean acceptable in the democratic concept, a “good” law is one which is: 1) Clear 2) Possible to follow 3) Enforceable 4) Consistent with the country’s constitutional right. Others would add that the law should also have a “worthwhile purpose” (although worthwhile seems open to value judgments) and which should also be “fair” (but we could also say that laws should be enforced equally or applied equally to all citizens).