Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick

NORTHFIELD – To encourage public participation in county government, the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders will meet after normal business hours once a month.

Scheduling meetings after work hours was suggested by Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick, who is completing her first year in office.

“It was a campaign issue,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “It was the most asked question during campaigning, besides ‘What’s a freeholder.’”

The Freeholder Board meets twice a month, but the first meeting of the month, starting in February, will be held at 6 p.m. instead of the customary 4 p.m.

“That’s an inconvenient time for most Atlantic County residents because they are working,” Fitzpatrick said. “People often say they want access to government. Well, here is an opportunity for them to get involved.”

Fitzpatrick said she researched other local governments and best practices in New Jersey before suggesting the change, which will be on a six-month trial basis.

Fitzpatrick said the change will require an adjustment in schedules for support staff who are union members. They can use comp time or get overtime pay, but the cost will be minimal, she said.

“For the convenience of voters and constituents, it warrants the extra $5,000 in expense,” she said.

Fitzpatrick said she is happy that her fellow freeholders support the idea.

“I hope more people come and use this as an opportunity to take part in their county government,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Freeholder Board holds two meetings a month. The first meeting of the month will be held at 4 p.m. and the second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Meetings are held in the board room at the Stillwater Building, 201 S. Shore Road, Northfield.

The meeting times and dates will be memorialized during the Freeholder Board reorganization meeting on Jan. 1.

For an exact schedule of meeting times and dates, see atlantic-county.org/freeholders/index.asp.