What is a Freeholder?
Morris County is governed by a seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders. The members are elected at large to serve three-year terms. It is not unusual for a Freeholder to spend between 30 and 40 hours a week on activities related to the part-time position. The Freeholder Board sets policies for the operation of six super-departments, more than 30 divisions plus authorities, commissions, boards and study committees. Actual day-to-day operation of departments is supervised by the county administrator. The Board of Chosen Freeholders has been granted broad powers by the state legislature to regulate county property, finances and affairs.
The Freeholder Board’s duties include:
- Preparing and adopting the county budget.
- Authorizing expenditures and bonds.
- Appointing county officials and members to boards, commissions and authorities.
- Passing on all claims against the county.
- Supervising the administration of county government.
The Freeholders are the center of legislative and administrative responsibility in Morris County and, as such, perform a dual role. As legislators they draw up and adopt a budget, and in the role of administrators they are responsible for spending the funds they have appropriated. Many of these duties in Morris County have been delegated by the Board of Chosen Freeholders to the county administrator.
Public meetings of the Board of Chosen Freeholders are held regularly on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, except holidays. The meetings begin at 7:00 p.m., in the Freeholders Public Meeting Room on the 5th floor, in the County Administration and Records Building, Court Street, Morristown (click here for a complete schedule). The public is invited to attend these meetings and urged to present opinions. In addition, the Freeholders conduct workshop conference meetings on same second and fourth Wednesday, at 4:30 p.m. in the Knox Conference Room, Administration and Records Building. Call 973-285-6015 for specific meeting dates.
In New Jersey’s early history, any person who owned land free from debts, mortgages, other legal claims or liens was a “freeholder.” Those who were elected to serve were the “Chosen Freeholders.” At first, legislative functions were performed by the Courts, later by a Board of Chosen Freeholders and Justices.
Gradually, the judges became increasingly involved with judicial concerns and in 1798 the State Legislature established the Board of Chosen Freeholders as the legislative and administrative head of county government in New Jersey.
As a result, the 21 counties of New Jersey serve as a middle level of government between the state and federal governments and the municipalities. The counties deal with regional problems such as solid waste disposal and water supply, as well as the historic responsibility with the courts, roads, general government, and the conduct of elections.
For the first half of the nineteenth century, the system of apportioning freeholders remained absolutely rigid; two freeholders for each township, town or city. But when the number of townships in the county began to grow at an appreciable rate, the board membership became unwieldy.
For example, in Morris County between 1806 and 1918 the number of persons sitting on the Board of Chosen Freeholders ranged from 20 to 27. In the latter year the first small board (five members) was seated in Morris County. It was expanded to its present seven member size in 1972.