Somerset County Democrats support changing 'freeholder' title

Two Democrats who are running for Somerset County Freeholder this year would rather be running for county commissioner.                                                                                          

Following the passage of a bi-partisan bill by the state Senate that would replace the title freeholder with county commissioner, Democratic candidates Shanel Robinson of Franklin Township and Sara Sooy of Bernardsville have challenged the current members of the Somerset County freeholder board to adopt a resolution supporting the bill’s passage in the General Assembly.  

In a press release, the Democrats say the term freeholder dates back to the 18th Century and referred to office holders being comprised of debt-free property owners – which at the time were exclusively white males. They further note that New Jersey remains one of the last states in the country to still use the term.

“Words and titles definitely matter, but this isn’t only about replacing a term rooted in racism and sexism,” said Robinson. “In a larger sense it’s about your willingness to adapt and change with the times, and it’s also about the fact the average taxpayer has no idea what a freeholder is or does. Updating the title to county commissioner is a smart way to promote transparency and increase civic participation.”

“This is another missed opportunity by those in charge of Somerset County government to step up and modernize with the times,” said Sooy. “The Board of Chosen Freeholders has a tremendous role in addressing our everyday infrastructure needs, shaping educational opportunities for college students, and prioritizing projects that could produce sustained economic development in our communities. We need to increase awareness among taxpayers of that role, and by retiring this ridiculously outdated title, we can begin that conversation anew.”

'Race Card'

The Republican response to the Democrats came from Al Gaburo, chairman of the Somerset County GOP, who downplayed the importance of the issue in an Aug. 2 email to this newspaper.

“If the state legislature decided to pass a law changing the title of a countywide office holder in New Jersey they are free to do so and obviously the county would comply,'' he said. "However, the fact that the Democrat freeholder candidates think this is the issue keeping taxpayers up at night demonstrates how wildly out of touch they are with reality.''

He added that while Robinson and Sooy "shamefully try to play the race card,'' their opponents, Republican incumbents Patrick Scaglione and Mark Caliguire, "will stay focused on holding down county property taxes, maintaining our Triple A credit rating, and investing in key priorities like preserving open space, improving education and fixing roads and bridges.”

The four are vying for two, three-year terms on the all-Republican freeholder board in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election.

A copy of the bill that would change the freeholder title, S-402, can be found on the web at