This action in lieu of prerogative writs was instituted by the Board of Trustees of Mercer County Community College (MCCC) against the County Executive of Mercer County and the members of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of that County (Board) seeking injunctive relief against defendants, restraining them from exercising any authority over the plaintiff by enforcing the provisions of the Administrative Code adopted by the Board, and for a judgment declaring that plaintiff is a unit of government unaffected by the adoption by Mercer County of the Optional County Charter Law, N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. After an answer was filed by defendants, the following organizations were granted leave to appear as amici curiae: New Jersey Education Association, Mercer County Faculty Association, Mercer County Vocational Educational Association, Association of New Jersey County College Faculties, and Council of County Colleges.
The Board of Education of the Vocational Schools Mercer County (Vo-Tech) joined in the action as an additional plaintiff seeking the same relief as that of MCCC.
There is no dispute about the factual background, and it can be simply stated. Plaintiff MCCC was established in 1966 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-1 et seq. , and plaintiff Vo-Tech was organized in 1968 under N.J.S. 18A:54-1 et seq. In September 1972 the New Jersey Legislature adopted the Optional County Charter Law, N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. In accordance with that act, a charter study commission was formed in Mercer County; sometime thereafter a formal report was submitted by that commission recommending the County Executive Plan under the Charter Act. Subsequently, the voters of Mercer County adopted this plan and, as a result, in April 1976 an Ordinance was passed on first reading, effective May 1, 1976, adopting an
Administrative Code pursuant to the County Executive Plan. This ordinance contains provisions which substantially alter both the existing structure of the two plaintiffs and the relationship between those plaintiffs and the county. The Code provides for considerable administrative control by the county; the board of school estimate is abolished, and the total effect of the implementation of this Code is to reduce plaintiffs from their autonomous status to that of county agencies and to place complete control in the hands of the Board.
The major issue in this case is whether plaintiffs are separate political subdivisions of the State, governed by Title 18A and not subject to the Charter Act, or whether the Charter Act brings these plaintiffs within the jurisdiction and control of the county.
There are several sections of the Charter Act which must be considered, interpreted and applied in order to resolve this issue.
40:41A-25. Government of county after adoption of optional plan
Upon adoption by the registered voters of any county of any of the optional forms of government set forth in this act, the county shall thereafter be governed by the plan adopted by the provisions of this law applicable to all optional plans, and by all general laws, subject to the transitional provisions in article 7 of this act.
For the purposes of this act, a "general law" shall be deemed to be such law or part thereof, heretofore or hereafter enacted, that:
a. Is not inconsistent with this act; and
b. Is by its terms applicable to or available to all counties, or;
c. Is applicable to all counties or to any category or class of counties, and deals with one or more of the following subjects: the administration of the judicial system, education, elections, health, county public authorities, taxation, and finance, and welfare.
Nothing in this act shall be construed to prevent counties from abolishing or consolidating agencies the existence of which has heretofore been mandated by State statute providing that such abolition or consolidation shall not alter the obligation of the county to continue providing the services previously provided by such abolished or consolidated agency.
The intent of this act is to enable a county that has adopted a charter pursuant to this act to cause any duty that has been mandated to it by the Legislature to be performed in the most efficient
and expeditious manner, and, absent a clear legislative declaration to the contrary, without regard to organizational, structural or personnel provisions contained in the legislation mandating such duty.
40:41A-27. County powers generally
Any county that has adopted a charter pursuant to this act may, subject to the provisions of such charter, general ...