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Sewell v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Hudson

Decided: February 21, 1941.

WILLIAM E. SEWELL, RELATOR,
v.
THE BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF HUDSON, DEFENDANT



On application for writ of mandamus.

For the relator, Jacob J. Levey, Irving Eisenberg and Frank J. V. Gimino.

For the defendant, J. Emil Walscheid.

Before Justices Case, Donges and Heher.

Case

The opinion of the court was delivered by

CASE, J. Relator seeks to compel the defendant, by writ of mandamus, to insert in its annual budget the sum of $200,000 for the expenses of the office of Superintendent of Elections and the further sum of $300,000 for the expenses of the office of Commissioner of Registration during the year 1941.

On June 24th, 1940, relator was, in joint session of the legislature, appointed Superintendent of the Elections for Hudson County. He took office forthwith and is now acting. Shortly thereafter the legislature amended R.S. 19:32-2 to provide that "all expenses of every nature in the office of the superintendent of elections shall not exceed the sum of $200,000 per annum." At the same time R.S. 19:31-2 was amended to constitute the Superintendent of Elections the Commissioner of Registration and to limit the expenses in the office of the Commissioner of Registration to $300,000 for the year 1941 and $250,000 per annum thereafter. On December 21st, 1940, relator submitted to the Board of

Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson his estimate that for the year 1941 the office of Superintendent of Elections would need $200,000 and the office of Commissioner of Registration would need $300,000 -- a total budgetary request for the two departments of $500,000. That estimate was in gross. There was no breakdown of the two lump sums into component parts or subdivisions and no statement or explanation of the uses to which the money would be applied. Relator rested upon the statement with respect to each of said sums that it was the amount which he "estimated will be the necessary expenses incurred in running the office * * * for the year 1941;" except that he wrote a letter to defendant's clerk suggesting that there be additional allowances of $10,000 for "suitable quarters" and $25,000 for new equipment.

Defendant conceived that it had the function of fixing an amount within its discretion for the uses of relator's offices and accordingly made a budget appropriation in the amount of $184,000, a figure arbitrarily fixed in almost facsimile of the amount of $183,804.24 reported to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders by the Superintendent of Elections and Commissioner of Registration of the County of Essex as necessary to meet the requirements of those departments for the year 1941. Among defendant's exhibits is a copy of the estimate submitted by the Essex County official to his board showing in detail with respect to each office the uses to which the requested funds were to be applied and the estimated financial need for each use.

The position taken by the relator is that the legislative mandate is such that the Board of Chosen Freeholders is bound to appropriate to his use any sum up to the statutory maximum that he requests; and that he is under no duty to give to the board or, in pursuit of compulsory writ, to the court any further or other information than that he thinks he will need that much money. But that is not what the statute says; and that, in our view, is not the law. The statutory provisions are:

Section 3, chapter 165, Pamph. L. 1940 (being an amendment of R.S. 19:32-2) provides:

"Each superintendent shall fix the salaries of the persons so appointed and such salaries certified to and approved under his hand shall be paid semi-monthly by the county treasurer of the county in which such persons are so engaged. All other necessary expenses incurred in carrying out the provisions of this Title when certified to and approved by the superintendent shall be paid by the county treasurer of the county in which the superintendent shall maintain his office; provided, however, that all expenses of every nature in the office of the superintendent of elections shall not exceed the sum of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000) per annum commencing in the year one thousand nine hundred and forty-one and annually thereafter."

Section 1, chapter 165, Pamph. L. 1940 (being an amendment of R.S. 19:31-2) provides:

"All necessary expenses incurred, as and when certified and approved by the commissioner of registration in counties of the first class * * * shall be paid by the county treasurer of the county; provided, however, that all expenses of every nature in the office of the commissioner of registration in counties of the first class, exclusive of county board expenses, shall not exceed the sum of three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) for the year one thousand nine hundred and forty-one and shall not exceed the sum of two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000) per annum for each succeeding year thereafter."

The legislature obviously intended to, and did, place in the hands of one holding relator's position large determinative powers, including the hiring, the removal and the fixing of the number of and the compensation of his assistants. We must assume that a part of the legislative scheme was to prevent the offices of the Superintendent of Elections and the Commissioner of Registration from being financially crippled by an unsympathetic or a hostile board. But we find nothing in the statute to relieve relator from following the course, uniformly pursued by bureaus and departments, of listing in some detail, for ...


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