Government South Orange Towns

South Orange Hopes to Move From ‘Village President’ to ‘Mayor’

The South Orange Village Board of Trustees voted to change its name on Monday night — as well as the title of theVillage’s top elected official.

However, the New Jersey State Assembly will need to approve the changes before they can go into effect and that process could take months or years.

The changes are among a few approved adjustments to the Village Charter, which have been in process for the better part of seven years. Although the form of government will remain the same (including holding on to its non-partisan nature), the Village Board of Trustees would become the Village Council and the Village President would be known as the Village Mayor.

Another change: The Village Treasurer would become the Village Chief Financial Officer.

Trustee Jeff Dubowy was against the change, saying that the titles were a part of what made South Orange “a very unique community.”

“We are an inclusive community … with a tremendous amount of volunteerism,” said Dubowy, who added that the terms “Mayor and Council bring back everything that is wrong with politics and the abuse of power” and were evocative of Tammany Hall.

The titles Village President and Village Board of Trustees “have certain traditions built in… there’s history there,” said Dubowy.

Trustee Deborah Davis Ford disagreed.

“Tradition is wonderful but just because it’s tradition that in itself doesn’t suffice for why something shouldn’t change,” said Davis Ford, who argued that the change was necessary as “a matter of clarity and confusion outside of our little village… it allows us to quickly communicate that we represent a legislative body [and not a not-for-profit organization]. When you are out networking trying to make a connection you may only have 30 seconds or a minute to have that conversation or make that connection. … It’s just more efficient and effective.”

Davis Ford also noted that South Orange voters approved the changes in a referendum.

Village Counsel Steve Rother noted that, although South Orange could expedite its portion of the process, the state legislature was an unknown quantity.

“How long will this take to work through committees in both houses? I can’t tell you.”

After the state governing body approves the charter changes, South Orange would then need to pass one more ordinance to put the changes into effect.

Three Trustees voted against the changes (Mark Rosner, Howard Levison and Jeff Dubowy) and three vote for the changes (Steve Schnall, Walter Clarke and Deborah Davis Ford). Collum broke the tie.

“We are not changing the form of government; we are changing the titles,” Collum reminded the Trustees.

In a followup email to Village Green, Collum noted that “there were 21 public meetings held by the Charter Review Committee and that the change being made here was approved by voters 60%.”

Although voters approved stipends for Trustees ($1,800 per Trustee per year) and the Village President ($2,400/year), Collum noted at the meeting that the ordinance was sticking with reimbursements over stipends to cover costs incurred by elected officials related to fulfillment of duties in order to preserve the volunteer character of elected positions in South Orange.

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