Holmdel charter study commission recommends nonpartisan government

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HOLMDEL – The five members of a charter study commission who have been examining Holmdel’s current form of government have unanimously recommended that several changes be made to the township’s current form of municipal government.

The decision to accept or to reject the charter study commission’s recommendations will rest with Holmdel’s residents, who will vote “yes” or “no” on a referendum question during a special election that has been scheduled for July 26. A simple majority will decide the referendum question.

The members of Holmdel’s charter study commission – Kin Gee, William Kastning, Janet Berk, Gerald Buffalino and Zachary Gilstein – held their final meeting on May 12 and voted unanimously on two items: one, to file their report with the municipal clerk, and two, to schedule the special election for July 26.

The charter study commission’s recommendations are the following:

• Change from the current Township Committee form of government and adopt the Township Council-Manager form of government;

• Five Township Council members (including a mayor) will be elected at large and not by wards; this would be similar to the current Township Committee form of government;

• The mayor will preside over Township Council meetings, vote with other council members – similar to the current Township Committee – but the mayor will be directly elected by voters and not appointed by the members of the governing body as is currently the case;

• Township Council members, including the mayor, will be elected to serve a four-year term on a staggered basis every two years;

• A professional manager will be appointed by the Township Council members. The manager will run the day-to-day administration of Holmdel in accordance with the will and intent of the council — very similar to the current township administrator;

• The manager can be removed by a simple majority (three votes) of the Township Council, unlike the current two-thirds requirement (four votes) to remove the administrator;

• Elections for the Township Council will be held on a nonpartisan basis, similar to current elections for members of the Holmdel Township Schools Board of Education. If they wish, candidates can campaign and make known their political party affiliation;

• Under the Township Council-Manager form of government, Holmdel residents will have the opportunity to introduce a local ordinance or to reject an ordinance that has been adopted by the council through a petition process known as Initiative and Referendum.

The recommendations are contained in the charter study commission’s report. The panel’s report is a public document that is expected to be posted on the municipal website.

The members of the charter study commission had the option to place the referendum question on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, but all five members concluded that the importance of the question to residents and the fact that the issue is a current topic of discussion in the community warranted a special election in a more timely manner.

While acknowledging a November election might have a larger turnout than a special election, Berk expressed concern the Nov. 8 election would have a “busy ballot” with elections for multiple governmental offices, Board of Education seats and other public questions.

Given those circumstances, Berk said Holmdel’s change of government referendum question might not have the prominence in November that it will have as the only item on the ballot in a special election, and because of that, she recommended holding a special election to decide the issue.

Gee, Kastning, Buffalino and Gilstein agreed with Berk’s assessment and recommendation.

Gilstein said, “The (change of government) question is at the top of people’s minds now. There is a lot of interest in this question and people are ready to deal with it.”

Buffalino said, “I think this (issue) warrants a special election. I am not worried about the turnout.”

Kastning and Gee supported a special election, with Gee saying, “This should be a stand-alone (item on the ballot). This is too important.”

Gee said state law establishes guidelines regarding when the referendum could be placed before voters. The earliest date allowed by law was July 13, which is not a Tuesday. The first Tuesday that could have been selected was July 19.

Gee suggested waiting an additional week and the charter study commission members settled on July 26 as the date for the special election.

During the November 2021 election, Holmdel residents approved a public question which asked if they wanted to create a charter study commission whose members would examine the township’s current form of government and possibly recommend changes in the form of government.

Residents approved that public question and elected the five individuals who sought positions on the five-member charter study commission: Berk, Buffalino, Gee, Gilstein and Kastning. Any adult resident of Holmdel was eligible to file a petition to run for a seat on the charter study commission.

Holmdel currently operates under the Township Committee form of government. There are five members of the committee, all of whom are elected at large and generally identified by their affiliation with a political party (i.e., Democrat or Republican).

Holmdel’s mayor is not directly elected by voters, as is the case in municipalities that operate under a different form of government.

Instead, each January, the five members of the Township Committee elect one individual who sits on the governing body to serve as mayor for the year. The mayor runs the Township Committee meetings.

Following the election of the members of the charter study commission, the panel held public meetings and interviewed individuals who serve in local governments to gain an understanding of the options that were available to Holmdel.

The charter study commission’s recommendations are outlined in their final report and the decision to retain the township’s current form of government or to switch to a different form of government will be in the hands of Holmdel’s residents on July 26.