Land area: 127 square miles
Water area: 3.3 square miles
Highest point: 691 feet above sea level
Average annual: 54 degrees F
Average temperature January:
High 38 degrees F, Low 24 degrees F
Average temperature July:
High 86 degrees F, Low 69 degrees F
Average annual: 44-48 inches
Average number of days with precipitation: 111 days
Single Family Units: 120,150
Median Housing Values, owner occupied: $394,300
Total Housing Units: 310,379
Major Colleges and Universities: 10
Total Public School Enrollment, ages 3 and older: 210,103 (2009)
Number of Public School Districts: 23
Number of Charter Schools: 29
(Years of School – 2009)
Less than 9th Grade: 8.3 percent
High School Graduate or Higher: 81.1 percent
Bachelor’s Degree and Beyond: 30.7 percent
FORM OF GOVERNMENT
County Executive Plan:
Elected County Executive and Board of Chosen Freeholders (nine members)
County Seat: Newark
GENERAL ELECTION STATISTICS (2009)
Registered Voters: 451,561
Ballots Cast: 84,575
Third largest county in New Jersey by population
783,969 total population
Median Age: 35.8 years
LABOR FORCE (2009)
Total Civilian Labor Force, ages 16 and over: 390,358
PERSONAL INCOME (2009)
Per Capita: $30,991
Median Household Income: $54,176
Median Family Income: $67,030
Essex County Park System
First County Park System created in United States
Organized in 1895
Includes 20 parks, five reservations and various facilities
5,985 acres of parkland
Major highways accessible to Essex County
Garden State Parkway
New Jersey Turnpike
Interstates 78, 80 and 280
Routes 1-9, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 46
Total mileage: 1,673
Interstate mileage: 27
State highway mileage: 59
County road mileage: 233
Municipal road mileage: 1,330
Essex County has three of the nation’s major transportation centers:
Newark Liberty International Airport
Urban Enterprise Zones:
Within East Orange
COUNTY GOVERNMENT: The Structure, History and Responsibilities As the United States grew, each of the 50 States developed its own individual geographic and governmental structure. In New Jersey, there are 566 municipalities, organized into 22 Counties. Counties were created as geographic and political subdivisions of the State, and derive their powers from the State Constitution and the State Legislature. Their original mission was to provide road maintenance and hospitals for the mentally ill. The County has no authority which is not either specifically granted or implied by statutes, and many County functions are mandated or supervised by the State.
Counties still provide those services, plus others, and have no jurisdiction over municipal governments, because the concept of home rule is strong in New Jersey. Therefore, in New Jersey, municipalities perform some governmental and service functions done by Counties in other States, and vice versa.
THE MUSTO COMMISSION: A Precursor of Change
In 1966, the State created the County and Municipal Government Study Commission, chaired by William V. Musto, to study the structure and functions of county and municipal governments. Known as the “Musto Commission,” the study identified four main areas of inadequacy in the then structure, which had members of the elected Board of Chosen Freeholders acting as both the legislative and administrative leaders. The Commission cited inadequacies in the legal, fiscal, structural and administrative areas, as well as political invisibility regarding governmental responsibilities.
The Commission recommended that counties be given the general power to reorganize in three ways: (1) County Executive Plan, (2) County Manager Plan, and (3) County Supervisor Plan. The Commission also recommended that counties be empowered to initiate area-wide and inter-local services, to provide for a legislative and policy-making role for the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and to provide central, professional administration. The New Jersey Legislature incorporated these recommendations into the Optional County Charter Law in September of 1972.
The Essex County Charter Change Commission
From 1798 until 1977, Essex County was governed by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, a traditional form of New Jersey County government which changed very little in 180 years. The name, in early days, indicated that the people who were elected owned their land, or were “freeholders” of property.
However, based on recommendations of the Optional County Charter Law, Essex County, by resolution of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, was one of nine Counties to establish a Charter Study Commission, by referendum in the November, 1973 election. At the same time, from a field of 30 candidates, nine members were elected at-large for this non-partisan Commission by a 2 to 1 majority. Five of the nine Commissioners were attached to County government.
In all eight of the other counties where the voters elected Charter Study Commissions, the Commissioners recommended the adoption of one of the three alternative charters, but in Essex County, after nine months of deliberation, the Commission, in a 6-3 party-line vote, decided that the current form of government was working well. A minority report was filed, which recommended a change in the structure of County government to the County Executive Plan.
Essex County’s Charter Change Battlelines are Drawn
The Optional County Charter Law specified that citizens could petition to put an alternative charter plan on the ballot. In 1975, in a movement spearheaded by the Essex County League of Women Voters, a bipartisan citizens group called Citizens for Charter Change was formed to conduct a petition drive to put the minority report recommendations on the ballot.
The Public Question for the ballot read, “Shall the County Executive Plan of the Optional County Charter Law be adopted for Essex County, with provisions for a Board of Freeholders of nine members to be elected for concurrent terms and elected five by districts and four at-large?” Under the provision of the Charter Law, the petition had to be signed by 15 percent of all County residents who were registered to vote 40 days before the 1975 Primary Election. Therefore, more than 56,000 signatures were therefore needed.
By September 1975, after a campaign at shopping centers and on street corners throughout the County, 67,000 signatures were gathered by Citizens for Charter Change and presented to the County Clerk. Disputes arose as to the validity of the signatures and as to the actual number needed. Finally, after almost three years and many court battles, the necessary signatures were approved and the question of Essex County Charter Change was placed on the ballot in November 1977.
Essex County’s Charter is Changed; a New Government is Formed
Citizens approved the change in form of government by a 72,226 to 64,238 vote. As per the approved plan, Essex County was divided into five districts, by population and geography, with each district represented by one Freeholder, and the four remaining Freeholders were to be elected at-large. The following year, the new officials were elected on November 6, 1978, and were sworn into office on the steps of the Essex County Hall of Records one week later, Tuesday, November 13.
This created two branches of government: the Administrative Branch, headed by the County Executive, and the Legislative Branch, the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
As required by law, an Administrative Code creating a government with clearly defined Executive and Legislative branches was written and adopted on May 1, 1979, by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and approved by the County Executive. This document set forth in detail the organization of the County government, proscribing the duties and powers of all major officials, elected and appointed, and the composition and responsibilities of each of the departments and non-departmental agencies.
The Code consolidated 68 previously existing departments, agencies, boards and commissions into eight new departments under the administrative supervision of the elected County Executive and the County Administrator hired by him, as the senior professional manager, with the Advice and Consent of the Board of Freeholders.
Within the eight new departments, 33 separate divisions conducted County government operations and programs. In addition, a number of advisory boards were created to provide citizen input and help develop policy and program initiatives at the department and division levels. According to the Administrative Code, Article 9, Section 9.Od, “all advisory boards, shall consist of at least five members plus two freeholders,” and shall reflect the “population of the County and the public served by the agency being advised.”
THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: A New Leader for Essex County
The County Executive, elected from the County at-large, for a four-year term, is the chief political and administrative officer of the County. The duties and powers of the County Executive are contained in Article 4 of the Administrative Code. The first elected County Executive was Peter Shapiro, a 26 year old NJ Assemblyman, who was representative of the bi-partisan coalition of activists that had battled the established political leaders, and won.
General Duties of the County Executive
1. Appoints, with the Advice and Consent of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, the County Administrator, County Counsel, Department and Division Heads, and members of all County Boards, including Advisory Boards, Commissions and Authorities.
2. Hires all departmental employees, subject to the Administrative Code and Civil Service requirements, but may delegate this power to department heads.
3. Enforces the County Charter and all general laws pertaining to the County.
4. Prepares the annual Operating and Capital budget for review and adoption by the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
5. Supervises the collection of revenues, as well as the audit, and control of all disbursements and expenditures.
6. Presents an annual State of the County Message.
7. Negotiates contracts for the County subject to the approval of the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
8. Signs all Ordinances, contracts and bonds.
9. May veto any legislation except the budget and other
resolutions. (The Board of Chosen Freeholders may override a veto by a two-thirds vote of the full membership.)
In addition to those powers and responsibilities described in the Optional County Charter Law and formalized in the Administrative Code, the County Executive is the visible representative of the County in dealings with the public, the business sector and the municipal governments. Furthermore, the County Executive represents County interests through lobbying efforts on the state and federal levels.
The County Executive’s Office staff is composed of the personal choices of the County Executive, and these appointments are not subject to Advice and Consent. The Staff works with the County Administrator and the Department Heads to assure that policies of the County Executive are carried out, direct press, community, and inter-governmental relations, and work with the Administrator and Director of Personnel to find the best persons for staff and Board positions.
THE COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR: a Professional Manager
The County Administrator, appointed by the County Executive with the Advice and Consent of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, serves at the pleasure of the County Executive.
The County Administrator is responsible for the day to day operations of County Government. This includes serving as liaison between the County Executive and the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the Freeholders and the Department Heads. Among the primary responsibilities of the position are supervising the Department Directors, advising the County Executive, and developing management policies and procedures.
The management functions are performed through regularly scheduled weekly meetings, and on-demand, as required problem-solving sessions. The County Administrator meets regularly with the County Executive to discuss general County issues and specific operational problems, Board of Chosen Freeholders agenda items, and personnel matters. The County Administrator, County Executive, and Department and Division Heads also formally review goals and objectives.
THE BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS: the Legislative Body
The Board of Chosen Freeholders consists of nine members, five of whom are elected from districts and four of whom are elected at-large. They are elected for three-year concurrent terms and may be re-elected to successive terms at the annual election in November. There is no limit to the number of terms they may serve. The Board holds meetings, which are open to the public on Wednesdays or Thursdays at a variety of locations around the County and at the Hall of Records in Newark. All meetings begin at 7:00 pm. An annual meeting schedule is available from the Office of the Clerk to the Board of Freeholders, and is published in daily and weekly newspapers.
The function of the Board of Chosen Freeholders is to perform the legislative and investigative powers granted to it by the Optional County Charter Law. It passes whatever ordinances and resolutions it deems necessary for proper and good governance of the County. The Board also gives Advice and Consent to appointments by the County Executive of all Department and Division Heads, County Administrator, County Counsel, and members of all Boards, Commissions, and Authorities. A prime function of the Board is to conduct investigations that will aid it in formulating legislation and exercising budgetary powers. The Board appoints its own counsel, who serves at its pleasure, and in addition, the Board may, within the limits of its budget, appoint professional and clerical staff and consultants deemed necessary to perform its statuary responsibilities.
The President and Vice President of the Board are elected by majority vote of the Board at its annual organizational meeting. They serve for one year but may be re-elected to successive terms. The President acts as chairperson for all formal meetings and sets the agenda. As presiding officer, the President may move and second motions from the chair but, when wishing to participate in a debate must relinquish the position for the reminder of the debate.
The President and Vice President are the Board’s liaisons to the Administration, and meet frequently with the County Executive, County Administrator and the Chief of Staff. Although standing committees are prohibited, the President establishes and appoints all Board committees as needed. All ordinances and resolutions passed by the Board are signed by the President. In the absence or inability of the President to serve, the Vice President acts in that capacity.
It is the responsibility of the Freeholders to appoint a Clerk to the Board who is their office manager and serves at the pleasure of the Board. The Clerk operates with a budget and staff separate from the Administration’s. The Clerk prepares the Agenda for Conference and Board meetings, attends all formal meetings of the Board, records all the votes and actions taken, and keeps the minutes. Finally, the Clerk receives all documents and certifies them, provides secretarial service and handles correspondence for the Board of Chosen Freeholders. The Office is the official repository for County documents.
One of the most important powers of the Board is the power of the budget. On or before January 15th of each year, the County Executive, after formal review and hearings, must submit a proposed budget and budget message to the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Aside from the total annual expenditures for each department, division, commission, and agency, the budget contains recommendations for a budget for the Board of Chosen Freeholders based on information supplied by the Executive to the Board.
The Board, in order to hold its own hearings, must file a schedule of requests for information and appearances by County officials with the County Executive within ten days after submission of the budget. All Board requests for appearances by County personnel must be filed at least 48 hours before the time set for such appearances.
The Board then holds its own budget hearings and sets County policy and direction in its budget decisions. After passage of the budget, the Freeholders may request quarterly reports from the County Executive to help them monitor the budget throughout the year. The County Executive cannot veto the budget as passed by the Freeholders and must have Freeholder approval to make changes in the budget during the year.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders oversees non-departmental agencies (see page 39, Article 10 of Administrative Code), which are those agencies that are not part of any other agency of the County but which must adhere to the same regulations and controls as the eight departments of government. The Board may by ordinance create, change, alter, or dissolve agencies that are not deemed autonomous or mandated by law.