Everywhere I go, and I've been to every municipality in Atlantic County since my nomination at the Democratic Convention in March, I'm asked these questions:

What is a Freeholder? What do they do?

And when I start by explaining that the Atlantic County freeholders manage a budget of almost a quarter of a billion dollars, people pay attention. County residents want to know who are the freeholders? What are their qualifications to manage such a large amount of money? And why does this board appear to be so far under the radar?

Here are some answers:

The term "freeholder" dates from 11th century England. In Atlantic County, the board is known as the Board of Chosen Freeholders, which can be misleading, indicating the board is chosen instead of elected. I wonder how many people drive by the Stillwater Building in Northfield, where the freeholders meet, see that sign that says "Chosen," and think they have no choice of who sits on the Freeholder Board?

The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders administers the county budget, maintains county bridges, roads, buildings and facilities, including the animal shelter, Meadowview Nursing Home, county jail, Sheriff's Office, libraries, among others. The 2016 county budget was $237 million.

Regarding transparency: The board meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons. This is a time when a good portion of the folks who contribute to the budget through property taxes are working! I think a better time would be 6 or 7 p.m., just the same as most municipal boards meet so their constituents can attend the meetings and know what their representatives are doing. Additionally, in 2017, live streaming each meeting is not only possible but free. This should be implemented no matter what the scheduled time of the meetings. The citizens of Atlantic County have a right to know how their money is being spent, and what their representatives think about the issues that impact our community.

Caren Fitzpatrick

Candidate for Atlantic County freeholder

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