‘What is Local Government’ – Westville, NJ

Local government is the administrative body responsible for managing the affairs of a specific town, city, or county. These entities function as subdivisions within a state, making them subordinate to both state and federal governments. Local governments play a crucial role in the everyday lives of citizens, as they are the closest level of government to the people.

Each state has its own set of laws that dictate the formation and operation of local governments. This means that the powers and responsibilities of local governments can vary significantly from one state to another. In some states, counties wield considerable authority, while in others, their political power is minimal.

The importance of local government lies in its proximity to the populace. It is the level of government over which residents have the most direct influence. Due to the smaller population size of towns, cities, and counties compared to states or the entire country, citizens can more readily engage with and impact local governance. This direct involvement ensures that local governments are more responsive to the specific needs and concerns of their communities.

Local government refers to the authority to determine and execute measures within a restricted area, smaller than a whole state. Every country in the world has some form of local government, although the degree of autonomy and power can vary significantly. The concept of local self-government emphasises the freedom of a locality to make decisions and take action independently.

The distinction between local government and local self-government is more than technical; it relates to the difference between deconcentration and decentralisation. Local government often aligns with deconcentration, where certain functions are devolved from the central government for convenience. In this model, power is administered by officials appointed by and accountable to the central government, with authority and discretion remaining centralised.

In contrast, decentralization characterizes local self-government, where decision-making authority is devolved to a council of locally elected individuals. These councils act independently, appointing and managing their officials. These distinctions are crucial, even if sometimes blurred, as they impact the autonomy and functioning of local governance.

Westville’s government structure.

Westville, New Jersey, operates under a distinctive “weak mayor, strong council” form of government. This system emphasizes the separation of administrative and legislative responsibilities, ensuring balanced governance. Here’s a detailed look at how this structure functions and the key players involved.

The Role of the Mayor

In Westville, the mayor holds significant administrative duties but possesses limited legislative power. Key responsibilities of the mayor include:

  • Calling and Governing Council Meetings: The mayor schedules and oversees council meetings, ensuring orderly proceedings.
  • Board and Commission Appointments: The mayor appoints members to various boards and commissions, influencing important local decisions in health, environment, and land use.
  • Voting in Case of a Tie: The mayor participates in voting only to break a tie among council members, a rare but crucial role.

Currently, Fritz H. Sims, Jr. serves as the mayor, with his term spanning from January 2023 to December 2026.

The Council’s Legislative Power

The council, in contrast, wields substantial legislative authority, responsible for enacting laws and policies that shape the town’s future. Council members serve three-year terms, elected during the November general elections. This staggered election process ensures that not all members are up for election simultaneously, providing continuity in governance.

The council president, elected from among the council members, plays a pivotal role in leading council activities and collaborating with the mayor to address the town’s needs.

Boards and Commissions

Westville’s governance is further bolstered by several boards and commissions that specialize in various areas, providing expert advice and support to the council. Key boards and commissions include:

  • Board of Health: Focuses on public health issues, ensuring the community’s well-being.
  • Environmental Commission: Addresses environmental concerns, promoting sustainable practices and policies.
  • Land Use Board: Manages zoning and land development, balancing growth with community needs.

These bodies play essential roles in advising the council, helping to implement policies, and ensuring specialized areas of community life are effectively managed.

Community Involvement and Services

Westville’s government structure encourages active community involvement through these boards and commissions. Residents can participate in or attend meetings, providing input on decisions that affect their lives. This inclusive approach helps maintain transparency and accountability within the local government.

Westville’s “weak mayor, strong council” form of government ensures a balanced distribution of power, with the mayor handling administrative duties and the council exercising legislative authority. This structure, supported by various specialized boards and commissions, fosters effective governance and community participation. As Westville continues to grow and evolve, this system will play a crucial role in addressing the town’s challenges and opportunities.

Westville’s Historical Background

Early Settlements: Westville, New Jersey, boasts a rich history dating back to the early 18th century when European settlers, primarily of English descent, established the area. Initially part of Gloucester County’s Deptford Township, Westville benefited from fertile land and access to the Delaware River and Big Timber Creek, which were vital for trade and transportation. Thomas West, one of the earliest and most influential settlers, played a pivotal role in the area’s development, leading to the borough being named in his honor.

Incorporation and Development: Westville was officially incorporated as a borough on April 7, 1914, marking its separation from Deptford Township. The 19th century was a period of significant growth, largely due to its strategic location near Philadelphia. The establishment of the West Jersey Railroad in the mid-1800s was particularly transformative. The railroad facilitated efficient commuting to Philadelphia, attracting residents and businesses alike. This period saw the development of residential neighborhoods, schools, churches, and local businesses, setting the stage for Westville’s evolution into a suburban community.

Community and Culture

Annual Events: Westville is known for its vibrant community events that reflect its close-knit nature. The Independence Day celebrations are a major highlight, featuring a parade with local bands, floats, and community groups, culminating in a fireworks display over the Delaware River. The Halloween Parade is another key event, drawing participants and spectators from across the region with elaborate costumes and decorated floats. Seasonal festivals, holiday parades, and community yard sales further contribute to the borough’s lively atmosphere.

Local Organizations: The Westville Lions Club and other civic organizations play a significant role in fostering community spirit. The Lions Club organizes charity fundraisers, community clean-up days, and holiday events, while the Westville Historical Society works to preserve the borough’s history. The Historical Society operates a small museum showcasing artifacts, photographs, and documents related to Westville’s past and conducts educational programs and historical reenactments to engage residents with their heritage.

Parks and Recreation

Thomas West Park: Thomas West Park is the centerpiece of Westville’s recreational offerings. It features a variety of amenities, including playgrounds, sports fields, picnic areas, and walking trails. The park is a hub for community activities and sports leagues, hosting events ranging from youth soccer games to community picnics and outdoor concerts. Annual events like the Westville Summer Festival, which includes live music, food vendors, and family-friendly activities, further enhance the park’s role as a community focal point.

Big Timber Creek: Big Timber Creek, which flows through Westville, offers ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and bird-watching. The creek’s scenic banks are popular for leisurely walks and nature observation, providing a peaceful retreat within the borough. The waterfront is equipped with boat ramps and fishing piers, making it accessible for both recreational and serious anglers. The area is also used for community events, such as river clean-ups and outdoor markets, promoting environmental stewardship and community engagement.


Westville School District: The Westville School District oversees the educational needs of the borough’s younger residents. Parkview Elementary School, known for its small class sizes and dedicated teaching staff, provides a supportive environment for early education. The school emphasizes not only academic excellence but also social and emotional development, ensuring a well-rounded education for its students. Parkview Elementary frequently collaborates with local organizations to enhance educational experiences through field trips, guest speakers, and community projects.

Gateway Regional High School: Older students typically attend Gateway Regional High School, which serves several neighboring communities. The high school offers a comprehensive curriculum, including advanced placement courses, vocational training, and a wide range of extracurricular activities. Gateway Regional High School is known for its strong academic performance, diverse programs, and active sports teams. The school also has partnerships with local businesses and colleges, providing students with opportunities for internships, dual enrollment courses, and career exploration programs.

Economy and Infrastructure

Local Economy: Westville’s economy is primarily residential, with a variety of small businesses catering to the community’s needs. The borough has a mix of restaurants, cafes, retail stores, and professional services. Notable businesses include family-owned diners, boutique shops, and local service providers such as auto repair shops and beauty salons. Westville’s dining scene features a variety of cuisines, from classic American fare to international options, reflecting the diverse tastes of its residents. The local economy is supported by the Westville Business Association, which promotes local businesses and organizes events to attract visitors and foster economic growth.

Transportation: Westville’s strategic location near major highways like Interstate 295 and Route 130 ensures easy access to Philadelphia and other regional hubs. Public transportation options include bus routes operated by NJ Transit, providing convenient connections to surrounding areas. The nearby PATCO Speedline offers rapid transit services to Philadelphia, making commuting efficient for residents. The borough’s infrastructure includes well-maintained roads, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and bike lanes, promoting safe and accessible travel within the community. Additionally, recent infrastructure improvements have focused on enhancing connectivity and safety, including the installation of traffic calming measures and the development of new bike paths.

Notable Features

Westville Historical Society: The Westville Historical Society plays a crucial role in preserving and promoting the borough’s history. The society operates a small museum that displays artifacts, photographs, and documents related to Westville’s development. Educational programs and historical reenactments are regularly organized to engage the community with its heritage. The society also conducts walking tours that highlight historic buildings and landmarks in the borough, providing residents and visitors with insights into Westville’s past. Special exhibitions and guest lectures further enrich the community’s understanding of local history.

Waterfront and Scenic Views: Westville’s waterfront along Big Timber Creek and the Delaware River is a focal point for recreational and community activities. The scenic riverfront provides picturesque views and is often used for community events such as river clean-ups, outdoor markets, and festivals. The area features walking trails and picnic spots that are popular among residents for relaxation and outdoor gatherings. The riverfront park is equipped with amenities such as benches, gazebos, and playgrounds, making it a favorite spot for families and nature enthusiasts. Efforts to enhance the waterfront area include plans for new recreational facilities and environmental conservation projects.

Architectural Heritage: The borough features a mix of architectural styles, reflecting its historical development. From colonial-era homes to Victorian houses and early 20th-century buildings, Westville’s architectural diversity adds to its charm. Preservation efforts by the community aim to maintain the historical integrity of these structures while accommodating modern needs. Several buildings in Westville are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, underscoring their significance and the community’s commitment to preserving its heritage. The Westville Historical Society works closely with local authorities to ensure that restoration projects adhere to historical accuracy, maintaining the borough’s unique architectural character.

Westville, NJ, combines historical charm with modern amenities, making it a welcoming place for families and individuals seeking a close-knit community. Its rich history, active community life, and strategic location near Philadelphia provide a unique blend of small-town feel and urban accessibility. The borough’s dedication to preserving its heritage while fostering growth and development ensures that Westville remains a vibrant and attractive community for current and future generations.

The Importance of Understanding Local Governance: A Comprehensive Insight.

Understanding local governance is essential for citizens to effectively participate in their community’s political, social, and economic life. Local governments, like that of Westville, New Jersey, play a crucial role in managing public services and ensuring that the needs and preferences of their communities are met. Here are detailed reasons why understanding local governance is vital:

1. Enhanced Civic Engagement and Participation

Knowledge of local governance structures encourages residents to participate actively in civic activities. When citizens understand the functions and processes of their local government, they are more likely to attend council meetings, join boards and commissions, and vote in local elections. Active participation ensures that the government remains responsive to the community’s needs and priorities. For instance, Westville’s “weak mayor, strong council” system encourages citizen involvement by allowing public participation in council meetings and local decision-making processes​

2. Accountability and Transparency

Informed citizens can hold their elected officials accountable more effectively. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of local officials, such as the mayor and council members, allows residents to ensure these officials perform their duties appropriately. Transparency in local governance is enhanced when citizens are aware of how decisions are made and can scrutinize government actions and expenditures. For example, in Westville, the mayor’s administrative duties, including appointing members to various boards and commissions, can be monitored by an informed public​.

3. Better Decision-Making

Understanding local governance helps citizens make informed decisions about local issues. This includes voting on referendums, supporting local initiatives, and voicing opinions on community developments. Informed decision-making leads to outcomes that better reflect the community’s values and needs. Knowledge about local governance structures, such as the roles of different boards and commissions in Westville, enables residents to support initiatives that benefit the community most​.

4. Improved Public Services

Local governments are responsible for a wide array of services, including public health, safety, education, and infrastructure. By understanding how these services are managed and funded, residents can advocate for improvements and ensure that their tax dollars are used effectively. Effective local governance leads to higher quality public services and better community outcomes. For example, the Environmental Commission in Westville focuses on sustainability practices, which residents can support to enhance environmental health​ .

5. Conflict Resolution

Awareness of local governance structures aids in resolving conflicts and addressing grievances. Residents who know the proper channels for lodging complaints or raising concerns can more effectively navigate the system to seek redress. This understanding helps maintain community harmony and trust in local institutions. For instance, knowing how to engage with the Land Use Board in Westville can help residents address zoning disputes or land use issues.

6. Community Development

Active participation in local governance fosters community development. Residents who are involved in local decision-making processes help shape policies that drive economic growth, enhance the quality of life, and create a vibrant community. For example, involvement in land use planning can influence zoning decisions that affect the community’s development and environment. In Westville, community involvement in the Land Use Board’s decisions can lead to more thoughtful and beneficial developments​ .

7. Educational Value

Understanding local governance extends beyond mere knowledge; it holds profound educational benefits, particularly for younger generations. Delving into the intricacies of local government instills a sense of civic duty and responsibility, serving as a cornerstone in teaching the importance of active participation in democratic processes. Schools and community organizations stand as pivotal agents in this educational journey, enlightening residents about the functions and significance of their local government. By nurturing this understanding, they sow the seeds for a more informed and engaged future generation, poised to shape and uphold the pillars of their community.

Let’s Conclude: A Brief Summary of Local Government

In the light of the above discussion we can say that. Understanding local governance is not just about knowing who holds office or how decisions are made; it’s about empowering residents to actively participate in shaping their community. In towns like Westville, this knowledge ensures that the government remains responsive, transparent, and accountable to its citizens.

A well-informed citizenry fosters enhanced civic engagement, better decision-making, and improved public services. Accountability and transparency in governance are achieved when citizens understand the mechanisms of local government, enabling them to hold officials accountable and advocate for their community’s best interests. Moreover, an informed populace can contribute significantly to community development, ensuring sustainable growth and a higher quality of life.

Effective local governance also provides educational value, particularly for younger generations, instilling a sense of civic responsibility and the importance of democratic participation. This creates a more engaged and informed future generation that values and understands the significance of local governance.

Ultimately, understanding local governance equips citizens with the tools to ensure their government works effectively and efficiently, providing the necessary services and fostering a community that thrives on active participation and informed decision-making. By staying informed and involved, residents of Westville and similar communities can help shape a vibrant, accountable, and resilient local government that truly serves its people​.

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