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South Orange Board of Trustees to Vote on New Titles and Stipends

David Lackey

Sunday, December 22, 2013 • 6:06pm

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on an ordinance at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 23, which will make changes to the Village Charter that will revise the titles of government officials, provide a modest stipend to those elected to the governing body and change the official name of the Village itself.

The proposed changes are the result of the work done by the South Orange Charter Review Committee in 2011 and approved by the residents when a referendum was voted upon that same year.  A full report of the recommendations made by that committee may be read here.  Among the major changes suggested:

Change the name “Township of South Orange Village” back to the name used prior to 1978, “South Orange Village.”

Change “Village President” to “Mayor.”

Change the “Board of Trustees” to “Village Council,” and “Trustee” to “Councilman” and “Councilwoman.”

Provide the Village President and Trustees with annual stipends, but no other benefits.

Some residents oppose the suggested changes to the Village officials’ titles and the stipends.  In a recent Letter to the Editor, former Trustee Michael Goldberg argued that “these unpaid volunteer positions have had these unique and distinguished titles is part of the rich history and traditions of our Village that have made our town unique.”  He also worries that “What begins as a modest ‘stipend’ today, will inevitably grow over time.”

In a conversation with The Alternative Press on the topic, Village President Alex Torpey said, “There is unequivocal support in our community for this. Most people thought that when they voted on it and passed it, it was done,” said Torpey. However, that vote was on a non-binding referendum. The measures have not been brought to a vote by the Board of Trustees to make them official until now.

“Tradition is something that should be thought about when making decision like this,”  Torpey said. “But when meeting with people in other towns and other states, having unusual titles takes some credibility away from South Orange.” He said outsiders get the impression “that we are some rinky-dink town with funny titles,” and he has had to explain what "village president" is numerous times, and that South Orange is a substantial town.

Regarding stipends, Torpey feels that not providing them is classist. “You want really good people to run for office, but if you provide no compensation at all, the only people who can do it are people who can afford it,” Torpey said.  The stipend being considered is less than the amount committee originally proposed. 

“There are costs associated with doing this job that cannot be expensed.  It shouldn’t cost someone money to do the job,” Torpey said. He used the example of a single parent who might have to hire a babysitter to attend government functions.

“We are the only town our size that does not do this,” Torpey said.

Former Trustee Janine Bauer is also in favor of the proposed changes and said in her letter to the editor, “We are not changing history. The history of our charter is still there, and we should be proud of it.  And we should be proud of our ability to adapt to the times, too.”

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