What if the voters of Hazlet got to choose their own mayor in an election, and that mayor got to stay in office for three or four years at a time?
That’s not how it works now. But some residents think this would be great for Hazlet, and they want to spark a townwide conversation about changing the township’s government structure to make that happen.
“It has nothing to do with who’s in charge or personalities – at all,” said Cliff Moore, at a meeting Tuesday with a dozen others to discuss creating a more important role for the town mayor. “It’s about accountability and making things progressive.”
Under Hazlet’s present form of government known as the Township Committee, five members are elected to staggered terms, and every year they appoint a mayor from among themselves. The majority party enjoys having the votes to appoint one of their own to the top spot.
“Sometimes appointing amongst themselves is ineffective, and I’m talking about both parties” said Barbara Ronchetti, a Democrat who just completed two terms on the Township Committee. “You don’t always have a strong mayor up there. You have a mayor that follows the pack or is told what to do. This mayor, it may happen if he’s a Republican or Democrat, he may follow the pack. But we may get someone who’s not in a party, who has his own ideas and he doesn’t like what’s going on. He has a little more power then to sway, in the public.”
Charles Hoffman added: “But also, regardless of what party he’s part of, he knows he’s going to have to answer to the people –one way or the other. That’s what I’m at.”
The setting for the meeting was the student lounge at Brookdale’s Higher Education Center off Union Avenue, which felt like a fitting venue for the start of a movement.
By the end of the hourlong meeting the group had formed a steering committee of Barbara Ronchetti, Cliff Moore, Charles Hoffmann and Bill Shewan, announced their attorney would be Gary Linderoth, and took steps towards a plan to gather about 2,000 signatures by early summer for a November, 2019 referendum question.
Though it may yet be tweaked in the future, the question will ask voters if they wish to appoint an official commission to explore a change to Hazlet’s government, or leave things as they have always been.
For Moore, leaving things as-is would be a shame. He blames Hazlet’s system of rotating mayors – not individuals, he stressed – for slow progress in addressing the township’s pool club problems in the past, or its affordable housing obligation.
“We just finally settled the COAH argument,” said Moore, who serves on the Land Use Board. “That lawsuit has been going on for how many years? But if you had a mayor in place that wouldn’t have happened because you kept handing off the football: ‘Here, you deal with it, you’re the mayor’– change parties – ‘Here, you deal with it, you’re the mayor.’ And that’s how this stuff gets kicked down the road, down the road, down the road.”
“We may lose,” said Ronchetti. “We may put all our hard work and time into it and the people may say no, we want to keep it. But at least we have given a best shot to it. We offered this to them. It’s their choice.”