MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — In a 2-1 vote, Township Committee decided Monday to form an advisory board to look into changing the township's form of government.

Committeeman Tim Donohue has argued the limitations of the township’s three-member governing body, which has been in place for centuries, no longer serve the growing municipality.

Donohue had sought a vote Monday to put a nonbinding question on the ballot in November, asking residents whether they support forming an advisory committee to look at the form of government. Depending on the board’s recommendations, this could be the first step toward expanding or reworking Middle’s government. No action is expected for at least a year.

Over the winter, Mayor Michael Clark and Committeeman Jeffery DeVico had rejected an earlier resolution to look at the form of government. During Monday’s meeting, DeVico argued the township doesn’t need a referendum to create an advisory body.

Donohue agreed to go along with that move, saying he did not want to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” But he would not withdraw his original motion without a vote on a resolution to create the advisory board at that meeting, which he said would be the last chance to get a question on the November ballot.

“I want to vote on something tonight,” Donohue said.

DeVico agreed, joining Donohue to approve a resolution stating the board would be formed within 30 days.

Clark and DeVico are Democrats, Donohue a Republican, one whose election tipped the majority on committee to the GOP for the first time in generations before the Democrats took back control. That balance could tip back this fall, with DeVico seeking a second term, challenged by Republican Theron “Ike” Gandy in the November vote.

Two former Republican township mayors, Dan Lockwood and Mike Voll, have supported the potential change in township government. During the lengthy meeting Monday night, Donohue argued several times that it is not a partisan issue, but rather an attempt to find the right kind of government for the sprawling township, which includes numerous communities spread over more than 70 square miles. 

With or without the referendum, the advisory committee would not have the power to change the township’s form of government. That would have to go before township voters in the form of a binding referendum, which will not happen in time for the November election.

The issue dominated the discussion at both the workshop meeting and the regular meeting at Township Hall, which together lasted about three hours.

Clark remained silent through most of the workshop discussion. Near the end of that meeting, he said, “I’m not for bigger government. Period.”

“I hear that sentiment. It’s a catchy little catchphrase. But going along with that line of thinking, the best form of government would be one-person, a dictatorship,” Donohue responded. “Should there only be three people running the House of Representatives?”

Township Attorney Frank Corrado advised against voting on a resolution that night, describing it as too open-ended. Still to be determined are the number of members on the board and how they would be chosen, although Donohue had indicated he wanted to see three Republicans, three Democrats and three independent voters.

Clark cited Corrado’s advice in voting against the resolution. He said the township pays a lot of money for its professionals and so should listen to them.