Commission Form of Government

Back in the late 1800's, many large cities in our country reported corruption within the local government level. Over time, reform groups organized and began to experiment with new forms of city government in hopes of ending the corruption. In 1900, after a natural disaster left Galveston, Texas to completely rebuild, citizens formed a commission form of government to insure that corruption would not hinder their efforts.

The Commission form of government was extremely successful at reviving Galveston. As word spread of Galveston's experience under the commission form of government, the city received hundreds of inquiries on how to follow in its footsteps.

In 1911, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson signed the Walsh Act, permitting municipalities to adopt a non-partisan form of government. (Non-partisan: free from party affiliation). The commission form of government became an optional form for all of New Jersey's municipalities. Nutley adopted the commission form of government in 1912. At that time, the salarie for Commissioners was set at $1,600 per year, with the Mayor receiving $2,000. The paramount philosophy of the law was to promote efficient government upon the premise that it would be better induced by holding members of the commission to an individual responsibility rather than party responsibility. Presently, Nutley is one of 32 municipalities utilizing this form of government.

Under the Walsh Act, the Board is composed of 3 or 5 members depending on the size of the municipality. Nutley's population warrants a five member board. Each Commissioner serves as a department head with each having complete control over the executive, administrative, judicial and legislative powers over their independent departments, see NJSA 40:72-4. The Commissioners elect one Commissioner as Mayor, or - in Nutley's case, historically the Commissioner that receives the most votes is appointed Mayor. The Mayor serves as President of the Board, presides over meetings and sets the agenda. Although the statute gives the Mayor the authority to "supervise all departments", case law has specifically held that "the powers vested in the department are possessed by the Commissioner designated by the Commission as Director of that Department and the Mayor may not exercise all the power and authority of all departments." Durkin v. Ellenstein, 127 N.J.L. 55, 21 A.2d 346 (1941). The Mayor specifically does not have the power to veto any measure of the Board. The salary for Commissioners today is $2,250 per year, with the Mayor receiving $2,700.

On the local level overall, there are five types of government: Borough, Township, City, Town and Village. The types of government (Nutley is a Township) may then be classified as utilizing one of twelve forms of government: Borough, Township, City, Town, Village, Commission (3 or 5), Council-Manager Act of 1923, OMCL Mayor-Council Plan, OMCL Council-Manager Plan, OMCL Small Municipality Plan, OMCL Mayor-Council-Administrator Plan and Special Charters. (OMCL: Optional Municipal Charter Law)

Below is a chart that summarizes the breakdown of the forms of government used in the 566 municipalities in New Jersey:

  • Borough 220
  • Township 144
  • Council-Manager 7
  • City 15
  • Town 8
  • Village 1
  • Commission 32
  • OMCL: Mayor-Council 66
  • OMCL: Council-Manager 40
  • OMCL: Small Municipality 19
  • OMCL: Mayor-Council-Administrator 2
  • Special Charters 12

For additional information about the Commission Form of Government please visit the New Jersey League of Municipalities website.