TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham which would return most of the operations of the City of Camden to local control was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 45-31, with final legislative approval pending in the Senate later today.
“It’s time that the City of Camden be once again allowed to choose its own destiny,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “At a time when we’re trying to rebuild our Statewide economy across the board, we need to empower Camden City officials to make the sort of choices we have to make at the State level to ensure real economic recovery. Through this legislation, the State may continue on as a partner in rebuilding Camden, but to paraphrase that old saying, the buck stops at the Mayor’s Office.”
The bill, S-3166, would make several significant modifications to the “Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act,” which was originally passed in 2002, and established the parameters for State oversight of Camden’s day-to-day operations. Under Senator Cunningham’s bill, the State Commissioner of Community Affairs would be authorized to terminate the extended term of the chief operating officer (COO) of the City of Camden, thereby transferring the COO’s power and authority back to the Mayor’s office. Through this legislation, the Mayor would once again have oversight and control of Camden’s financial agreements, employment contracts, and economic direction, as well as have the authority to increase the municipal portion of the property tax levy by up to three percent, and to appoint members to the Camden City School Board who were previously subject to appointment by the State and the previous COO.
“While progress has been made over the last eight years of State control, the sort of transformational change which would justify supplanting local control did not occur,” said Senator Cunningham. “That’s not to say that the ‘Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act’ was a failure – under State supervision, new private capital was invested, and the City made some significant strides in curbing crime. However, if you’re going to justify disenfranchising the electorate in Camden and running daily operations through an appointed chief operating officer, you had better show some serious progress.”
While the bill would return broad control over the City’s day-to-day operations to Camden’s elected Mayor, the State would still maintain some level of control. The Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs would have the authority to veto any resolution or ordinance adopted by the governing body within ten days of receipt, although the governing body could override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote by the fully-authorized membership within five days after receiving a veto. And the Camden Economic Recovery Board, established under the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the 2002 legislation which put Camden under State control, would continue to exist in order to facilitate private investment and redevelopment of the City, until such time as the Board had disbursed all of its State funding.
Senator Cunningham noted that new leadership in the City of Camden inspired the shift from State to local control. On January 5, former State Senator Dana Redd was sworn into office as the new Mayor of the City of Camden. While Senator Cunningham admitted that there was some momentum to return Camden to local control before the election of Mayor Redd, she said that the new Mayor was the “perfect person to take the reins of the City, and made our choice even easier.”
“I happen to know Mayor Redd well, and I know that she’s the perfect person to transition back to local control of the City of Camden,” said Senator Cunningham, who served with Mayor Redd on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “While we may have reached a point where State control of the City no longer made sense without the election of Mayor Redd, I think in this case, the newly sworn-in Mayor’s dedication to her City, as well as her State and local experience, really helped speed along the process. I wish the new Mayor well, and I know she will make great things happen for the residents of Camden.”
The bill, if approved by the Senate later today, would then go to the Governor to be signed into law.