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Mason v. City of Paterson

Decided: July 6, 1972.

REV. WILLIAM MASON; REV. PAUL KNAUER; JAMES BOYD AND GERTRUDE SYKES, PLAINTIFFS
v.
CITY OF PATERSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. BOARD OF ALDERMEN OF THE CITY OF PATERSON, A DULY ELECTED GOVERNING BODY OF THE CITY OF PATERSON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS V. ARTHUR C. DWYER, ACTING MAYOR AND PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF FINANCE OF THE CITY OF PATERSON, ET ALS, DEFENDANTS



Crane, A.j.s.c.

Crane

These are actions in lieu of prerogative writs which have been consolidated. Each of the actions attacks the validity of various aspects of the structure of the government of the City of Paterson.

Since the essential facts are not in dispute the parties have elected to proceed in a summary manner pursuant to the provisions of R. 4:67.

In 1907 the Legislature enacted a series of statutes which were intended to establish a new form of government in the City of Paterson. Lendrim v. Ryan , 98 N.J.L. 322, 323 (Sup. Ct. 1923). Prior to that time the governmental powers were vested in a Mayor and a Board of Aldermen pursuant to the provisions of a special act creating the city charter. L. 1871, c. 325, p. 808 et seq. , which was enacted prior to the amendment of the Constitution of 1844 adopted in 1875 prohibiting private, local or special laws. N.J. Const. (1844), Art. IV, ยง VII, par. 4, N.J.S.A., Const. , at 622.

The statutes in question distributed powers formerly exercised by the Board of Aldermen to newly created boards. Grosso v. Paterson , 55 N.J. Super. 164, 170 (Law Div. 1959). L. 1907, c. 45, p. 79, now found in N.J.S.A. 40:174-6 et seq. , created the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. L. 1907, c. 46, p. 89, now found in N.J.S.A. 40:186-5 et seq. , created the Board of Finance. L. 1907, c. 62, p. 114, now found in N.J.S.A. 40:175-9 et seq. , created the Board of Public Works.

The statute had the effect of stripping the Board of Aldermen of virtually all its legislative powers and vesting them in the newly created boards, all of which are appointed by the Mayor. It is undisputed that Paterson is the only municipality in the State functioning under such a distinctive form of government. Its unique quality was recognized in Fielding v. Board of Ed., Paterson , 76 N.J. Super. 50-57 (Ch. Div. 1962), wherein it was said by Judge Collester:

Paterson of course, has a unique form of government in this State. It is sometimes referred to as the strong type of government, where its primary governmental functions are controlled by boards appointed by the mayor.

Shortly after the enactment of the statutes the Attorney General brought a proceeding in the nature of quo warranto to test their validity. The Supreme Court, in McCarter v. McKelvey , 78 N.J.L. 3 (Sup. Ct. 1909), held that even though the statutes applied only to cities having a population between 100,000 and 200,000, they did not violate the provision of the then existing Constitution relating to private, special or local laws. The decision was affirmed by the Court of Errors and Appeals in Attorney General v. McKelvey , 78 N.J.L. 621 (1910). At that time Paterson had a population of 125,600; Camden had a population of 94,538; and the population of the City of Trenton was 96,815. (See the attached Schedule of Population.) The possibility that Camden and Trenton would shortly fall within the statutory class undoubtedly had a great influence on the decision. The court commented:

In form, therefore, the act is general, and, while at the time of its adoption it may have applied to Paterson alone, the Legislature must have anticipated that the time was not far distant, probably not farther than the census of the current year, when Camden and Trenton would come within the class." [78 N.J.L. at 626]

With all due deference to the court, its interpretation of the intent of the Legislature was apparently mistaken. It is curious to note that between the time of the argument of the case before the Court of Errors and Appeals, November 24, 1909, and the date the decision was filed, June 20, 1910, the statutes in question were all amended to change the population limits to a range of between 110,000 and 200,000. L. 1910, c. 292, p. 520; L. 1910, c. 293, p. 522; L. 1910, c. 294, p. 524. The statutes were approved on April 12, 1910, taking effect immediately.

In 1920, when the population of Camden had risen to 118,700 and the population of Trenton was 123,356, the Legislature amended the statute relating to the Board of Finance to limit the class to cities having a population between 125,000 and 200,000. L. 1920, c. 308, p. 557. Nothing was done at that time about the population limits as they existed in the statutes creating the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners or the Board of Public Works. However, in 1923 all three statutes were once again amended to establish the population ...


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