About Cumberland County Government
Cumberland County Board of County Commissioners
Cumberland County is governed by a 7 member "Board of County Commissioners." They are elected at-large by the registered voters of the municipalities of this County. The results of the 2010 U.S. Census showed the County population to be 156,898 in an area of 502.19 square miles.
What was a Freeholder?
In New Jersey's beginning history, any person who owned land free from debts, mortgages, and other legal claims or liens was a "freeholder." The British concept of the County was as a unit of local government, reinforcing the idea that only free citizens, holders of unencumbered land, were eligible to vote and hold office. Thus, those who were elected to serve were the "Chosen Freeholders." At first, legislative functions were performed by the Courts; subsequently, these functions were taken on by a Board of Justices and Chosen Freeholders. As the development of the State would dictate, the Judges became increasingly involved with Judicial matters, and in 1798, the New Jersey State Legislative established the Board of Chosen Freeholders as the administrative and legislative head of County Government. In 1912, a law was passed allowing voters to elect members of the Board from the County at large.
In 2020, a law was passed ending the use of “Freeholder” as a title for the County’s elected officials. The new law renamed all current Freeholder positions as “County Commissioner” and all “Boards of Chosen Freeholders” as “Boards of County Commissioners.” Governor Phil Murphy, who signed the bill into law, acknowledged the history of the term “freeholder,” which harkens back to a time when only white, male landholders could be elected to public office. “We have an obligation to ensure that governance in New Jersey is inclusive and representative of the tremendous diversity of our great state,” Governor Murphy stated.
The qualifications for the elected post of Commissioner are identical to those established for voting. By law, Cumberland County is allowed 7 commissioners, who serve staggered, overlapping three year terms. Two are elected in two successive years, three in the third year, elected from the county at-large. A Director of the Board is selected by his colleagues for a one year term.
Each Commissioner is charged with responsibility for one or more of the county's seven departments. These include:
- Public Works & Property
- Community Services
- Public Safety
The five areas of responsibilities mandated by the State of New Jersey to the Board of Commissioners include: (1) Courts and Law Enforcement, (2) Education, (3) Conducting Elections, (4) Roads, and (5) Social Services. The County has limited powers to provide such services and functions authorized by State Law in the areas which include: parks, libraries, planning the County College, health care, and solid waste management.
The Commissioners are given broad powers to regulate county property, finances and affairs. The Board prepares and adopts the County budget; authorizes expenditures and bonds; acts on claims against the County; appoints County officials and members of boards, commissions, councils, and authorities; and supervises the administration of all County departments. The Board of Commissioners act in concert to protect the health and welfare of all its citizens.