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Broad agreement in Middle on form-of-government study

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — It won’t be exactly as envisioned, but Middle Township Committee seems set to name 18 residents to a committee to investigate the best form of government for the township.

As discussed at the Monday, Oct. 1, workshop meeting, 17 people volunteered to serve on the committee. Number 18, Barbara Cresse, offered her name during the meeting. She is the former president of the Middle Township Taxpayers Association.

On most issues surrounding the new advisory body, there appeared to be swift consensus among the three committee members.

“Everybody’s so agreeable tonight,” joked Mayor Michael Clark.

Committee member Timothy Donohue had pushed hard for consideration of a change in the township form of government, which is essentially the same system as when the township was formed before the American Revolution.

Donohue is the lone Republican on Township Committee but has stated the motivation has nothing to do with partisan interests, but instead is about finding the best form of government for the township. He had originally sought a resolution to bring a question to the voters this year on creating a commission to study the form of government but relented when Committeeman Jeffrey DeVico said he would support the move without a referendum.

The committee had requested anyone interested in serving on the study commission let them know. Members said they wanted to see people from as wide a cross section of the sprawling township as possible. On Monday, Donohue said he had sought additional names after the first batch of applicants came in, saying he wanted to see women in the group and to see a wide geographic representation.

“Obviously there are some good names on the original list but I thought it was a little too manly and too Cape May Court House-y,” he said. He reached out to some additional individuals who had expressed an interest in serving.

The Cape May Court House section of the township still has a large representation in the list now under consideration, as does Rio Grande, according to committee members. But there are also names from Burleigh, Swainton, Goshen, Dias Creek, Whitesboro and Kimbles Beach.

There are 10 men and eight women on the list.

The committee did not release a list of the names, but a few individuals were identified , including Cheryl Spaulding, a well-known figure in the community for her work with the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro and with other organizations.

The committee also singled out one individual they thought should lead the group. Cape May Court House resident Mike Butterfield has been involved in the township for years, as a coach, a member of the Planning Board and in other capacities.

“It would be an honor, thank you,” said Butterfield, who attended the meeting with his youngest daughter, Ella, when committee told him of their belief he should lead the group.

He also asked if township Business Administrator Elizabeth Terenik could attend at least some of the commission’s meetings, because of her familiarity with the township government and her experience with other forms. Terenik has worked in Ocean City, Atlantic City and elsewhere.

Committee members had already discussed including Terenik and township attorney Frank Corrado in some committee meetings, as well as assigning someone to take minutes.

As Butterfield left the meeting, committee members wished Ella a happy birthday, before the committee and residents joined to sing her “Happy Birthday.”

A formal resolution on the government change study group is expected to be ready for a vote at the Oct. 15 Township Committee meeting, 6 p.m. at 33 Mechanic St. It is expected to give a full year for the new group to create a recommendation on the township form of government.

If the recommendation ultimately calls for a change in government, that would be just the first step. The two ways to change a form or government in New Jersey are a petition to put a question on the ballot or the formation of a charter study commission. Either way would require Middle voters to approve the change in a referendum.

The advisory group set to be formed would not be a charter study commission, but rather an advisory body.

Donohue had originally suggested the group be comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independent voters, but it seems that party affiliation was not part of the committee’s process. Clark said he knows the affiliation of many of the people set to be named to the commission but does not want that to be a factor.

“It’s important that you just put people on there. I think that they’ll do the best job that they can, regardless if they’re independent, Democrat or Republican,” Clark said.

Before Cresse volunteered, the committee had originally considered naming 13 members and four alternates, but after questions from the audience they agreed there was no need to differentiate between the members.

Committee members agreed that the new group will need guidance, both on the day-to-day operations of the existing government and the options available for change. There are five types of local municipalities in New Jersey, with 12 different forms of government.

“It’s going to be much more complicated than people expect,” said Cresse.

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