The Death of Democracy in Burlington County

“This wouldn’t pass muster in Trenton”

That’s a quote from Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey upon witnessing the pure disdain for the citizens of Burlington County exhibited by the Republican majority on the Freeholder Board on the morning before Thanksgiving.

The issue was the nomination of Sean Earlen as the county’s representative to the Pinelands Commission, a body whose mission is “Preserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural and cultural resouces of the Pinelands National Reserve.”

The Reserve is an area of 1.1 million acres spanning parts of seven South Jersey counties. It was created by Congress 35 years ago in partnership with the state to ensure that this environmental gem thrives. It’s the largest such reserve between Maine and the Everglades.

Earlen is a member of that commission and this action would keep him on for another five years. But the way this nomination was handled exemplifies the secrecy and lack of transparency of the Republican majority on the Freeholder Board.

The board consists of three Republicans and two Democrats, so typically if there’s a vote on party lines, the Republicans win. There’s no doubt that whoever the GOP put up for the Commission would receive board approval. But the way it was done was underhanded and disrespectful of the community and the nominee.

The two Democrats on the board came into the meeting with no knowledge of who would be nominated, despite their frequent inquires to the majority and the Freeholder staff. The nomination and approval of Mr. Earlen was pro forma and took only a few minutes. Prior to this, about a dozen citizens spoke – not just against Mr. Earlen (who previously voted to approve an environmentally hazardous pipeline throught the Pinelands) – but against the process of keeping the name of the nominee secret until the last minute, obviating vetting by the minority, the public, and the press. Democratic Freeholder Aimee Belgard made a motion to table the nomination until the next meeting in order to properly vet Mr. Earlen, but that motion was defeated along party lines.

There are fifteen members of the Pinelands Commission. The approval for the pipeline was previously defeated by a 7-7 vote. Since then, Governor Christie has been kowtowing to his Koch Brothers patrons by pressuring other counties to place pipeline-friendly members on the Commission. The Burlington County GOP Freeholders are happy to comply.

When asked to justify the secretive fast-track process for this nomination, the GOP freeholders were silent. When asked to justify the nomination of a pipeline-friendly toadie to the Commission, the same freeholders were silent.

Republicans have run Burlington County for decades. In the recent election, their two candidates won overwhelmingly with tons of outside money and negative advertising. Elections have consequences. Unfortunately, one of those consequences may be the slow destruction of one of the last remaining environmental treasures in the Garden State.

Below: Comments from Doug O’Malley – Director of Environment New Jersey, Carleton Montgomery – Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Democratic Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard

I spoke with Doug O’Malley and Carleton Montgomery after the meeting. Here are their remarks:

Freeholder Belgard’s closing remarks at the meeting:

Comment (1)

  1. deciminyan (Post author)

    Bill Wolfe, a Burlington County resident and environmental activist and blogger was also at the meeting and wrote about it here.


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