Adding commissioners raises a number of questions

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To the editor:

Recently a group of citizens has proposed changing West Cape May’s government to enlarge the governing body from three to five members. Along with this proposal is a recommendation to reduce salaries to $5,000 per commissioner.

The stated reason for the proposal is to add to the diversity of views and to enhance the dialogue in the borough. Who isn't for increased diversity and more discussion? Many solid citizens signed a petition to put this proposal on the ballot in November which, at first impression, seems sound. But when you scratch the surface and begin asking questions, the proposals may not be in the best interest of our community.

Is bigger government better government? At a time when our country is asking for less government, why would a town of 1000 residents need more government? Across New Jersey, the handful of towns with five member commissions have populations ranging between 12,500 and 58,000. Commissions with three members effectively serve two dozen communities with populations as high as 15,000.

Will a 5 member commission guarantee greater diversity? For the record, West Cape May is operating pretty smoothly and efficiently. The commissioners regularly discuss and often debate agenda items, then generally do vote together – a positive thing, not a negative. If the commissioners lack a common vision as to where the municipality should be going, the possibility of governmental chaos is very strong. At its worst, West Cape May could be left with not one unified organization, but potentially three or five diverging organizations running in circles. We’ve seen it happen.

Will five or more residents step up to serve on the governing body? Will you have a choice who is leading your town and what vision they have for community? Could a person (or persons) be elected with one “write in vote?” Current Commissioner Ramsey Geyer said he questions “if we’ll get five people to run when we have trouble getting three.” In the last election there were only four candidates.

Will reducing salaries help “attract a person that is more motivated by helping the community” as suggested by petition committee spokesman John Rowley? Will West Cape May see a brief reduction in commission salaries, only to be burdened with higher salaries and operating expenses for five members after two years as the law allows? The truth is, there is a lot time and responsibility that goes with a commissioner post and most people, understandably, aren't willing to take it on. West Cape May is currently staffed primarily by part-time employees, with a full-time staff of only six, giving great value for dollar. Will West Cape May need to hire a full-time administrator or additional staff, and at what cost to our residents?

There are many more questions to be asked, but you get the idea. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to discuss, as a community, where West Cape May is headed.

There are many ways we can broaden the discussion and increase the diversity in the borough that far exceeds two more voices on a governing body. To start, come to commission meetings and speak up. Meetings are held the second Wednesday each month at 7 p.m. and the fourth Wednesday monthly at 1 p.m. For those unable to attend, there's phoning, e-mailing, writing or making an appointment so that your voice and viewpoint is heard.

Check out the borough website at where you will find contacts, meeting schedules, budgets, minutes, community events and much more. For my part, I'm at Borough Hall most days and am willing to meet anyone at any time on any subject. Just give a call at 408-2000.

Pam Kaithern,
Mayor, Borough of West Cape May

(Editor’s note: This was sent as an open letter to the residents of West Cape May.)

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