Howell resident proposes gauging interest in nonpartisan government

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HOWELL – A resident who serves on a regional school board has raised the idea of placing a referendum question on the Nov. 3 ballot and asking voters if they would like to change from a partisan to a nonpartisan form of government in Howell.

Marc Parisi, who is one of Howell’s two representatives on the Freehold Regional High School District Board of Education, discussed a nonpartisan form of government during the public comment portion of  the Howell Township Council’s March 3 meeting.

Parisi said he emailed an ordinance to council members for their consideration. The proposed ordinance would place a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot and gauge voters’ opinions on changing from a partisan to a nonpartisan municipal election.

The voters’ approval of the referendum question would not immediately enact the change in how municipal elections are conducted in Howell.

“Many people may not know our form of government is the council-manager plan of government under the Faulkner Act. Part of that plans allows us to (hold a) referendum. In New Jersey, 42 municipalities have this type of government and 16 of those 42 are nonpartisan,” Parisi said.

“In Monmouth County, 12 (of 53) municipalities are nonpartisan. In Howell, according to the most recent count of registered voters, 46% of Howell voters are unaffiliated, 29% are Republicans and 23% are Democrats, so a majority of the voters in Howell are unaffiliated,” he said.

At present, an individual who seeks election to the office of mayor or Township Council member in Howell may run as a member of a political party (i.e., Democrat, Republican, Libertarian) or as an independent candidate with no political party designation.

If Howell switched to a nonpartisan form of government, all candidates for mayor and council would just have their name listed on the ballot without any party affiliation.

Neighboring Jackson has a nonpartisan form of municipal government. There is no limit to the number of residents who may secure a place on the ballot to run for mayor or Township Council in a given municipal election.

“In theory, everyone (in a nonpartisan election) would be running as an independent or nonpartisan (candidate). However, it is not uncommon that when (nonpartisan) candidates run for office, they may receive endorsements from any number of community groups, whether that is a political group or otherwise,” Parisi told council members.

He said a change to a nonpartisan form of government would not eliminate political influence.

Following Parisi’s remarks, the council members did not comment on the nonpartisan form of government or on Parisi’s suggestion to place a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot.