This is an action in lieu of prerogative writs seeking to set aside the report of the Camden Charter Commission as not having been made in accordance with the mandate of the statute, and to restrain the City Clerk of the City of Camden from placing the question of the adoption or rejection of the plan recommended by the Camden Charter Commission on the ballot and from certifying an election thereon for February 21, 1961 or at any other time.
The City of Camden has been governed under the Walsh Act, R.S. 40:70-1 et seq. , by a board of five commissioners.
At the general election on November 8, 1960 the electorate of Camden, by a vote of 26,488 for and 8,285 against, approved a referendum to establish a charter commission. N.J.S.A. 40:69A-2. This election was held pursuant to a procedure for adoption of optional charter plans, and it
resulted in the establishment of the charter commissioners who are the defendants with the city clerk. The defendant charter commission organized on November 15, 1960, and thereafter held several conferences, interviewed the city commissioners separately, visited other municipalities with varying forms of government, and held six public hearings. The charter commission employed consultants from the University of Pennsylvania and had several conferences with them. Officials other than the city commissioners were interviewed, such as the deputy comptroller and the city clerk. Also, it organized conferences with representatives of business and industry, and with leaders of civic and religious organizations. The hearings, conferences, interviews, field trips and consultations covered a period from November 15, 1960 to December 22, 1960, when the final report was filed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:69A-10.
The plaintiffs, taxpayers of the City of Camden, attack the findings and the report of the charter commission on the following grounds: (1) The charter commission proceeded in "undue haste" and in derogation of the statute in filing its report on December 22, 1960. Further, it is charged that said filing was solely for political expediency, by reason of the desire of the commission to make and file its report on or before December 23, 1960, in order to be able to submit the question on their report to the electorate at a special election to be held on February 21, 1961, so that under the General Election Law, if the report be so adopted by the electorate, candidates could be elected at an election to be held on May 9, 1961. (2) The report was made contrary to the mandate of the statute requiring the charter commission to "provide for the widest possible public information and discussion respecting the purposes and progress of its work." (3) The notices of the public meetings were inadequate. (4) The findings were not legally supported in the report. (5) The report of the commission failed to show any determination as to whether or not the government of the municipality "could become economical or efficient under
a changed form of government." (6) Some of the findings were inconsistent with the facts.
The plaintiffs contend that the inadequacy of the report itself, supported by the evidence of witnesses as to the invalidity of some of the findings, the limited notice of the public meetings, the sparseness of attendance at those meetings, the motivation of the charter commission to shorten the study so that it could meet a time schedule to make possible the elections in 1961 as noted, and the failure of the commission to include in its study certain requirements of the statute, warrant the court in setting aside this report and restraining the city clerk from submitting the question of the adoption or rejection of the plan on the ballot and from certifying an election thereon for February 21, 1961, and thus remanding the entire problem to the charter commission to carry out its statutory duties.
The defendants allege that the commission acted in full compliance with the statutory requirements, and further time was not needed for study of the different forms of government, comparison with other available forms under state law, or to make those determinations which the statute requires for the commission to come to its conclusion that the present commission form of government has not provided the citizens of Camden with the efficient or responsive government that is needed. Further, there was sufficient time for the commission to review the several forms of government provided by statute, which resulted in the charter commission's recommending the mayor-council plan B, Article 4, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-49 et seq.
The defendants offered testimony as to the holding of meetings, notices of said meetings in the newspapers and by radio announcements, and also showed the extent of the coverage of the results of the meetings and conferences through the newspapers and radio. The defendants sought to establish by testimony the validity of their findings, which were disputed by the plaintiffs, as consistent with the report.
The report of the charter commission includes a ...