WEST CAPE MAY — Residents are gathering signatures to get questions on the November ballot to increase the governing body from three to five members and limit their pay.
Borough Commission has three members but the group would like to increase it to five. John Rowley, a spokesman for the group, said the three commissioners generally agree on everything.
“The thinking is there is not enough diversity at the table. The last time there was an (election) in West Cape May three people were on the one ticket we elected. They all think alike. We need an opportunity for more debate and discussion on the issues,” Rowley said.
Mayor Pam Kaithern has not seen the petition, which has not been turned in yet, but said the group could start getting involved by coming to commission meetings. She noted there are usually only one or two members of the public in attendance.
“Public participation in government is a good thing,” said Kaithern. “I think the way you start is coming to meetings. If things are that bad why aren’t they coming to meetings or coming to Borough Hall to discuss it?
Commissioner Ramsey Geyer said he likes the idea of a larger commission.
“I don’t believe in big government but I believe it having more people involved. If they can find five people to be commissioners, I think they’ll have a much better governing body,” Geyer said.
That could be a problem. In the last election only four ran for the three seats. In neighboring Cape May Point, which also has the commission form of government, the election this year also featured four running for three seats. Both towns have one election every four years with all three seats decided at once.
The borough’s next election is slated for May but there is talk about moving the election to November 2013. It would still be a non-partisan election but the move would save the borough $10,000 every four years.
Before a decision is made Kaithern said they want to see how other towns, including Cape May later this year, fare with their first November election. The concern is that even though it will be a non-partisan race, without political parties involved, simply moving to November could create partisan politics.
“I think the feeling is we should move but there is some concern it could be impacted by politics. We don’t have to decide until January,” Kaithern said.
A second proposed ballot question would limit the compensation commissioners receive to $5,000 per year if there are five members or $6,000 if there are three. Rowley said being an elected official should not be a profession. Rowley said he found one town that pays just $2,000 a year.
“Some pay much less for commissioners,” Rowley said.
Kaithern, who said she makes about $16,000 per year in her third term, questions whether this will only attract retirees or wealthy candidates.
“What happens to the average Joe?” asked Kaithern.
A commission form of government involves a lot of work for elected officials. Each commissioner has a department and runs government operations for that department. The only way around that is to hire an administrator, which some commission towns have done including Cape May Point and Wildwood Crest. Kaithern said without an administrator few would work for $5,000 or $6,000 a year. The lower salaries, she noted, would not be enough to hire an administrator.
Geyer, who said he makes just over $11,000 in his first term, and gets increases each year tied in with size of the budget’s cap increase, has no problem with a lower salary. Geyer said he has tried to refuse the annual increases but was told he had to take them. Lower salaries might not pay for an administrator, but Geyer said they could pay for two extra commissioners.
“They could go to five and lower the salary,” said Geyer.
The petition drive is on a tight timeline. Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti said the deadline is Aug. 31 to submit questions to county. They are initially turned in to the municipal clerk who is given time to verify the signatures.
“We’re cutting it real close,” said Rowley.
Rowley said signatures are needed from 10 percent of the registered voters for the question increasing the commission size. Fulginiti said there were 810 register voters
In 2011 so that would equal 81 signatures.
Rowley said the salary question requires signatures from 15 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the 2011 state Assembly race. Fulginiti said 322 ballots were cast last year. That would translate into 49 signatures.
These signatures numbers are not official as the petition would have to be turned in and state statutes would have to be reviewed to make a final call. Borough Attorney Frank Corrado, who could not be reached for comment Monday, would review all the paperwork.
Contact Richard Degener: