Howell residents advocate for switch to nonpartisan municipal election

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HOWELL – Five residents with different political backgrounds have started a petition drive with the goal of changing Howell’s partisan form of government to a nonpartisan form of government.

In Howell’s current form of municipal government, most individuals run for mayor and Township Council under the banner of a political party (i.e., Republican or Democrat) and with the support of a political party. Some individuals choose to run for office as independent candidates.

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In a nonpartisan form of government, no candidate who seeks local office would run under the banner of a political party.

The five residents behind the Howell NJ First effort are:

• Michael Bernstein, a Howell resident for 17 years, president of the Ramtown Manor Homeowners Association and an original member of Howell Strong, a group of residents who opposed the construction of an affordable housing development on West Farms Road;

• Kathleen Novak, a Howell resident for 37 years. She serves on Howell’s Lake Restoration and Wildlife Management Committee and is a lifetime member of the Howell Heritage and Historical Society;

• Marc Parisi, a Howell resident for seven years. He is one of Howell’s two representatives on the Freehold Regional High School District Board of Education and the vice chairman of the Howell Shade Tree Commission;

• Ira Thor, a Howell resident for 11 years. He is currently serving his second term on the Howell K-8 School District Board of Education;

• Dawn Van Brunt, a Howell resident for 22 years. She is the secretary of the Howell Shade Tree Commission and a founder of Howell for Open Land and Preservation of the Environment.

“Our committee has close to 100 years of residency and community engagement in Howell,” Parisi said.

Parisi said the goal of Howell NJ First “is to make our local government more inclusive and representative. Roughly half of the registered voters in Howell are unaffiliated (with a political party), but nearly everyone is fed up with party politics.

“We believe our local candidates should be elected based on their character and ideas, not on their loyalties to local political parties. All elected officials should put Howell first,” he said.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the petitioners have chosen to circulate an electronic petition which may be seen at www.howellnjfirst.com

The petitioners must obtain signatures from about 2,500 registered voters in Howell to proceed.

If the petitioners obtain the required number of signatures and the petition is certified by the municipal clerk, the proposed referendum question will be presented to the Township Council.

At that time, the council members can adopt an ordinance and change from a partisan municipal election to a nonpartisan municipal election.

The council members would have the ability to vote on an ordinance and place the public question before voters. The council would need four “yes” votes (from five council members) to adopt an ordinance and submit the public question to voters.

The council is not required to adopt an ordinance; with the correct number of signatures, the referendum question could be submitted directly to voters at the next election.

If, for example, the referendum question proposing a switch to a nonpartisan election was placed on the November 2021 ballot and approved by voters, Howell would have a nonpartisan election beginning in November 2022.

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