ORANGE, NJ — When the Essex County governing body changed its name from the Board of Chosen Freeholders to the Board of County Commissioners, Orange Councilwoman Adrienne Wooten did research about the reasoning, which was that “freeholder” was an outdated term, used when political officials needed to be landowners, which often excluded women and people of color.
Not long after Wooten finished that research, an Alcohol and Beverage Control application was in front of the council for approval, and Wooten found outdated wording in the ABC ordinance that needed to be changed. Now, she’s leading an effort to audit all of the city ordinances and update them.
“I decided there needed to be an audit, so it’s been an ongoing project,” Wooten said about the undertaking in a phone interview with the Record-Transcript on May 30. “We want to make sure there’s human rights equity.”
There are many city ordinances that date back decades, and don’t reflect the current social and political climate. The laws themselves won’t change, according to Wooten, but some of the language will.
“Some ordinances go back to the 1900s,” she said. “There were things that were OK to say then that are not now. Now, you would just not talk to someone that way.”
A committee of city officials meets periodically to comb through the ordinances and flag anything that may need to be changed, and then the ordinance in question is sent to the city’s legal department. If it’s able to be changed, the ordinance is rewritten and sent to the council to approve. Because of the nature of the project and the sheer number of ordinances to read through, it won’t be a quick job.
“It’s a tedious process,” Wooten said. “It won’t be done overnight, but it’s worth it. We want to do what’s best for the community.”
As the audit moves along, Wooten wants to get involvement from local organizations, such as the Oranges & Maplewood branch of the NAACP, members of the LGBTQ community, special needs advocates, and people who are disabled. Women’s groups have already been involved.
“Some people were outraged that some language was even there in the first place,” Wooten said.
Mayor Dwayne Warren has been involved in the audit and said in an email to the Record-Transcript on May 30 that it is necessary that the city laws reflect all of the people that they represent.
“The review of the city’s code initiated by Councilwoman Wooten provides an opportunity to have our laws evolve as human understanding and human relations evolve. Voices that were once muted are now being heard; conditions are being destigmatized and labels are being stripped away,” Warren said. “All of these circumstances should result in more equitable language in our laws. I found the review to be intellectually stimulating and critically necessary in order that our laws respect the dignity of all residents. So far, the review has resulted in unearthing and correcting language that offends certain sectors of the community, such as women, persons with disabilities and others. I look forward to continuing my participation in this project.”