Please Note: Effective January 1, 2021, the term Board of Chosen Freeholders will no longer be used due to legislation signed earlier in 2020 by the Governor (S855) formally changing the title of Freeholder to Commissioner. The new title will be Ocean County Board of Commissioners and, Freeholders, effective January 1, 2021, will be referred to as Commissioners.
Up until Jan. 1, 2021, Ocean County has been governed by a five member Board of Chosen Freeholders. On Jan. 1, 2021, due to changes by the State of New Jersey, the term Board of Chosen Freeholders has been changed to the Board of Commissioners. Just as the Freeholders were, the commissioners will be elected at-large by the registered voters of the county's 33 municipalities.
Early in New Jersey's history, any person who owned land free from debts, mortgages, other legal claims or liens, was a 'Freeholder'. The British settlers in the "New World" brought with them the concept of the County as a unit of local government, reinforcing the idea that only free citizens, holders of the unencumbered land, were eligible to vote and hold office. Those who were elected to serve were the 'Chosen Freeholders'.
At first, legislative functions were performed by the Courts; subsequently, these functions were taken on by a Board of Justices and Chosen Freeholders. As the development of the State would dictate, the Judges became increasingly involved with judicial matters, and in 1798, the New Jersey State Legislature established the Board of Chosen Freeholders as the administrative and legislative head of County Government. In 1912, a law was passed allowing voters to elect members of the Board from the County at-large.
The qualifications for the elected post of Freeholder and now Commissioner are identical to those established for voting.
Each Commissioner serves as a chairperson of an area of County Government, broadly divided into the categories of: Finances and Parks and Recreation, Public Works and County Operations, Transportation and Senior Services, Human Services, Law and Public Safety, Administration, and Environmental Resources.
Areas of responsibility mandated by the State of New Jersey to the Board of Freeholders now Board of Commissioners include: Law Enforcement, Education, Conducting Elections, Roads, and Social Services. The County has limited powers to provide such services and functions authorized by State Law in the areas which include: parks, libraries, planning, County College, health care, and solid waste management.
The Commissioners, just as the Freeholders, are given broad powers to regulate County property, finances and affairs. The Board prepares and adopts the County Budget; authorizes expenditures and bonds, acts on claims against the County, appoints County officials and members of boards, commissions, councils, and authorities; and supervises the administration of all County departments. The Board of Commissioners acts in concert to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.