What is county government?

The middle level of government between the state and the municipality.

County government traces its origin to British settlers to the new world who brought with them the concept of the county as a unit of local government and with it the idea that only “freeholders” – those who owned land free of any debt – were eligible to vote and hold public office.

New Jersey is the only state where the members of a county’s elected governing body are called freeholders.  In other states, they may be called commissioners or county legislators.

How many counties are there?

There are 21 county governments in New Jersey.

Do all counties run the same way?

No, five counties in New Jersey are managed by an elected County Executive, and one is managed by an appointed County Manager. The others, including Morris, are governed by an elected Board of Chosen Freeholders. Morris County has seven freeholders elected at-large to serve staggered three-year terms. During the freeholder board’s first meeting in January, the members select a director and deputy director from among themselves.

What do Morris County Freeholders do?

The freeholder board is an elected administrative body that sets policies for the operation of all county services.  That includes six county government departments and their divisions plus authorities, commissions, boards and study committees.

What are the authorities, commissions, boards and study committees?

Authorities, boards and commissions have their members appointed and budgets approved by the freeholders, but may act independently of the freeholder board. Study committees are also appointed by the freeholder board to advise the freeholders on a wide range of issues.

Are there other elected or appointed officials at the county level?

Yes.

  • The County Clerk is elected for a five-year term.
  • The Surrogate is elected for a five-year term.
  • The Sheriff is elected for a three-year term.
  • The Prosecutor is appointed by the governor for a five-year term.

How does the county operate on a day to day basis?

The actual day-to-day operation of the county government departments (Employee Resources, Finance, Human Services, Law & Public Safety, Planning & Public Works) is supervised by the county administrator.  However, each of the seven freeholders serves as a liaison to one of those departments and to other areas of county government.