Cranford considers charter study

File PhotoCranford officials will vote on moving ahead to create a charter study on benefits of changing their form of government.
File Photo
Cranford officials will vote on moving ahead to create a charter study on benefits of changing their form of government.

CRANFORD — As the year comes to an end, the governing body is wrapping up initiatives Tuesday that they put forward. One includes looking into whether another form of government might work better for the township.

On Tuesday, the Township Committee will have a final reading and public hearing of an ordinance that will allow the township to move forward with a referendum to establish a charter study commission that could possibly recommend a change in Cranford’s present form of government.

The township currently works under a township committee form of government, one of the oldest in the state, in which five members are elected at large to serve three-year terms.

The problem with this particular form of local government, some have said, is that one or two seats are up for grabs every year. Depending on which party gains control on the governing body, the chairman of the committee, or honorary title of mayor, changes. Four commissioners on both sides of the political fence agreed that the township committee form of government has contributed to issues not getting resolved.

The Faulkner Act allows municipalities in New Jersey to select from four forms of government.

The town form, which dates back to 1895, includes a mayor elected at large for a two-year term and an eight-member council elected from four wards to serve two-year term.

Another type is the city form of government in which the mayor is elected to a four-year term and serves as the chief executive of the municipality. However, while allowed to attend council meetings, the mayor’s vote is only used to break a tie. But, he can veto ordinances.

Another popular form of government is the borough, which has a mayor elected at large to a four year term and six council  members elected at large to staggered three-year terms. This particular type is considered to be a “weak mayor and strong council” form of government. The council, though, is the legislative body of the borough and remains in control of what actually takes place in the municipality.

Although the issue of changing the form of government was bounced around in 2008 when a charter study advisory group received the go-ahead by referendum, any recommendations made by that group fell to the wayside due to political interference.

But now the issue has surfaced again and was strongly supported by Republican Commissioner Lisa Adubato, who, after serving a year on the committee, felt the governing body was spinning its wheels most of the time. All but one governing body member, Democrat Kevin Campbell, agreed.

“I realize that despite very good intentions, what ends up happening is that issues just get recycled over and over again,” Adubato said at a public meeting last month.

Fellow Democrat, Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins, who served on the 2008 charter study group, agreed.

“You have elections every two years and hopefully some actual work can get done,” he said, adding that there were many reasons why changing the form of government might add stability to the governing body.

Campbell, however, was adamant that this was not the time to take on something this major with everything else the governing body has on its plate.

“This is coming at the wrong time. We’re doing this now in November, almost into December, when we’ve been crushed by Irene, and humbled by Sandy,” he said, adding that the township also is fighting the Birchwood  development project, and is trying to find an interim township administrator and a full-time administrator.

“Finding stability in the town is paramount to any change in government at this time,” Campbell added.

At the township committee public meeting Tuesday at municipal chambers, residents will have the opportunity to air their views prior to the governing body voting.