The politicians in the one-square-mile, 2,600-population city of Beverly outnumber the police officers.

It is one of the quirks of New Jersey municipal government that a blip on the map wound up with as many leaders as urban centers such as Jersey City, Atlantic City, and Newark: a nine-member council with a mayor as the 10th elected official.

But the 152-year-old riverfront city soon might relinquish its distinction as home to one of the state's highest numbers of elected officials per capita.

The City Council voted last month to petition the Legislature to adopt a special law authorizing the downsizing of the council to five and the increase of terms of office from three years to four.

"Everybody knows that 10 elected officials for 3,000 people is ridiculous," said City Council President Luis Crespo.

Just how ridiculous? Consider that Evesham, Burlington County's most populated town, has five elected officials overseeing 50,000 people.

The city, initially part of a larger area that included Willingboro, flourished in the 19th century as businesspeople from Philadelphia settled there along the Delaware River. Some local leaders say they suspect that their governing body is large because the newcomers used Philadelphia's as a model.

Another rarity in this regard is Woodbury, Gloucester County.

The city of 10,000 is also governed by nine council members and a mayor, who each make about $3,000, according to Thomas Bowe, the clerk and administrator. But Woodbury has no plans to change, he said.

In Beverly, the present system is arcane and "doesn't work in its present form," acknowledged Councilman Don Arter, the lone Republican, who voted against the ordinance.

He wants to enact change instead by using a petition and a referendum. He has proposed having a petition signed by 25 percent of the city's registered voters that would declare the form and size of government they favor. Then it would be put on the ballot for a vote.

The Republican committee, Arter said, favors a council-manager form of government, with the mayor's office held by one of five council members rather than a sixth person.

If the method endorsed by the majority of the council is successful, the city would gradually phase out positions.

Council positions are no longer paid in Beverly, according to Crespo.

Political turmoil in recent years has made consensus difficult, and downsizing could cut down on the sniping.

But some are skeptical of the proposed solution.

The way longtime resident Tom Lowden sees it, the move is an effort to ease the way for one political party to control the city. Republicans and Democrats are squabbling among themselves, he said, "instead of doing what's right for the town."

Contact staff writer Maya Rao

at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com

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