This proceeding in lieu of prerogative writs against the individual members of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Union County Clerk seeks a declaratory judgment concerning the validity, application and effect of L. 1974, c. 141 (N.J.S.A. 40:41A-124(d)) and a judgment directing the county clerk to receive petitions of candidates for all nine freeholder positions in the primary and general elections in June and November 1975.
This matter comes before this court on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The parties have stipulated most of the facts, and there being no genuine issue as to any remaining material facts, a determination by summary judgment is appropriate. R. 4:46-1; Judson v. People's Bank and Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 73-75 (1954).
It appears that the following series of events precipitated the filing of the complaint:
Plaintiffs were duly elected as members of the Union County Charter Study Commission by the voters of Union County on November 6, 1973, pursuant to the provisions of the Optional County Charter Law, N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. Simultaneously, the voters of Union County approved the public question placed on the ballot by resolution of the board of chosen freeholders for the election of a charter study commission in Union County for the purpose of studying the various forms of county government outlined by the Legislature, N.J.S.A. 40:41A-45 through 58.
The Union County Charter Study Committee reported its findings and recommendations for adoption of the county manager plan, with a freeholder board of nine members, elected for nonconcurrent terms and all elected atlarge
by the citizens of the county, and it filed its final report with the Union County Clerk.
The charter study commission published on two successive weeks the full text of the proposed charter, together with a summary of its findings and recommendations, a summary of the provisions of the plan, and an analysis of and commentary upon the county manager plan recommended for approval. Public action took place on September 24 and October 1, 1974.
The Union County Clerk then placed upon the ballot for consideration by the voters in the general election to be held November 5, 1974 a referendum question as to whether or not the charter study commission's recommendation should be accepted. The voters of the county were given notice of the referendum by sample ballot mailed on October 30, 1974 by the Union County Board of Elections. On November 5, 1974 the county manager plan was adopted by the voters, thereby discharging the commission.
Senate Bill No. 1323 was introduced on July 24, 1974 and passed in the Senate on September 30, 1974; the bill was amended in the Assembly on October 15, 1974, then passed the General Assembly as amended on October 21, 1974, and was finally passed by the Senate, as amended by the General Assembly, on the same day. The Bill was signed into law on November 2, 1974 by the Governor and became known as L. 1974, c. 141. By its terms the measure became effective immediately.
The optional County Charter Law contains the following pertinent language in § 124(c):
The offices of the entire board of freeholders and all other offices established by any plan in this act which has been adopted by the registered voters of the county except sheriff, clerk, surrogate and register of wills shall be voted on at the first general election following adoption of such plan. In November of the first general election after the adoption of any plan provided in this act, the term of all incumbent members of the board of freeholders shall be deemed terminated at noon on the first Monday following the election of the new board of freeholders. On that date the newly elected freeholders
shall take office and the new board shall organize itself in accordance with the plan adopted thereunder. All freeholders and other officers elected in the first general election following the adoption of any plan provided in this act shall take office at noon on the Monday next following their election, but their terms shall expire in accordance with the plan selected, as if they had taken office on January 1 in the year following their election. But nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent an incumbent freeholder from becoming a candidate for the new board, even if his present time on the board has not yet expired. In the event that the plan approved provides for concurrent terms, all freeholders shall be elected for concurrent 3-year terms. In the event that the approved plan provides for staggered terms, terms shall be as follows:
(1) If there be five members to be elected, two shall be elected for 3 years, two shall be elected for 2 years, and one for 1 year.
(2) If there be seven members to be elected, three shall be elected for 3 years, two for 2 years, and two for 1 year.
(3) If there be nine members to be elected, three shall be elected for 3 years, three for 2 ...