Since 1990, the Borough of Hawthorne has operated under a Mayor – Council form of government, as authorized by the State of New Jersey's Faulkner Act (N.J.S.A. 40A: 69A-31 et seq), with a charter approved by the local voters. Under this form of government, similar in concept to our federal government, the Mayor and the Council are two separate but co-equal power centers. The Mayor serves as Chief Executive of the Borough, responsible for supervising the operations of government and seeing that the laws are enforced, while the Borough Council serves as the Borough's legislative body, passing local ordinances and resolutions. All elected officials serve a term of four years. Municipal elections are held every two years on a partisan basis, with the terms of the Mayor and at-large council members overlapping those of the ward council representatives.
The Mayor is elected directly by the voters. He is not a member of and therefore does not have a vote on the Council, but does have the right to attend and participate in discussions at all meetings. Among the powers and duties the Mayor exercises as chief executive are as follows:
- Enforce the charter, ordinances and general laws
- Report annually to the Council and the public on the state of the Borough
- Supervise, direct and control all departments of Borough government
- Prepare and submit to the Council an annual operating and capital budget
- Supervise the care and custody of all Borough property
- Negotiate contracts for the Borough
- Serve as ex officio nonvoting member of all appointive bodies in the Borough government
- Appoint a borough administrator, a Borough attorney, other department heads (Revenue & Finance; Public Works), a Borough engineer, a tax assessor, a municipal court judge and prosecutor, members of various boards and commissions (planning, zoning, library, recreation, health, shade tree, environmental, etc), and various other officials.
- Serve as head of the department of public safety
- Veto of ordinances adopted by the Council
- Designation of an acting mayor when prevented from attending to the duties of the office
The Borough Council consists of four members elected from and by wards, and three elected at-large. The Council meets in the evening on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Among the powers and duties of the Council are the following:
- Electing from among its members a president and vice president, and adoption of its own rules
- Adopting local ordinances and resolutions
- Overriding (by 2/3 vote) a veto by the Mayor
- Exercising advice and consent to many appointments of the Mayor
- Appointing the Borough Clerk and Deputy Borough Clerk
- Adoption of the annual budget
- Approval of contracts presented by the Mayor
- Conducting a legislative inquiry or investigation into the conduct of any municipal department, office or agency
- Removal, by 2/3 vote, of any municipal officer (other than the mayor or a council member) for cause
- Delegation of any number of its members as an ad hoc committee
- Designation of an official newspaper.
The Borough Clerk appointed by the Council serves as the clerk of the Council, the official custodian of Borough records and local officer in charge of elections, and issues licenses authorized by the Council under the Alcoholic Beverage Law and other licenses.
The Borough Administrator appointed by the Mayor assists the Mayor in preparation of the budget, serves as the Borough's purchasing agent, administers the Borough's personnel system, supervises all the operations in the Department of Administration, and performs all such duties and exercises any authority as may be delegated by the Mayor.
The Borough's Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment exercise powers as authorized under the state's Local Land Use Law to control zoning and development within the Borough.
The Hawthorne Board of Education is elected separately by the voters to exercise control over the local public schools.
Laws promulgated by the State of the New Jersey often tightly regulate the discretion of local government in conducting its affairs. Some of these are:
- Budgeting (Local Budget law)
- Fiscal operations (Local Fiscal Affairs Law)
- Borrowing funds for municipal purposes (Local Bond Law)
- Assessment and payment of taxes
- Purchase and disposal of municipal property (Local Land and Building Law)
- Purchase of goods and services (Local Public Contracts Law)
- Employee union contracts (Public Employee Relations Act)
- Land use (Local Land Use Law)
- Building permits & inspections (Uniform Construction Code)
- Fire safety (Uniform Fire Safety Code)
- Health (Health Code)
These often establish rules and procedures the Borough must follow, rules the Borough must enforce, and the qualification and appointment of officials to perform certain functions.