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Board of Trustees of Mercer County Community College v. Sypek

Decided: June 21, 1978.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF MERCER COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE, A BODY CORPORATE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS IN THE COUNTY OF MERCER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ARTHUR R. SYPEK, SR., COUNTY EXECUTIVE OF THE COUNTY OF MERCER, AND ALBERT E. DRIVER, EUGENE V. HOWARD, GILBERT W. LUGOSSY, BARBARA H. SIGMUND, PAUL J. SOLLAMI, JOSEPH E. TIGHUE AND JOHN S. WATSON, MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF MERCER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Mercer County, whose opinion is reported at 151 N.J. Super. 1.

Lynch, Bischoff and Kole. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, J.A.D.

Bischoff

The issue raised by this appeal is whether the Optional County Charter Law (Charter Law), N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq., supersedes legislation under Title 18A, "Education," pertaining to county colleges, N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-1 et seq. , and vocational schools, N.J.S.A. 18A:54-1 et seq. , where they are inconsistent. The trial judge, in an opinion published at 151 N.J. Super. 1 (Law Div. 1977), held that it did, and plaintiffs appeal.

The factual background is undisputed and is succinctly stated in the opinion of the trial judge as follows:

Plaintiff [Board of Trustees of Mercer County Community College] was established in 1966 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-1 et seq. , and plaintiff [Mercer County Vocational School] (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. [ Bd. of Trust. of Mercer Cty. Comm. Coll. v. Sypek , 151 N.J. Super. 1, at 4, 5 (Law Div. 1977)]

The Board of Trustees of Mercer County Community College (plaintiff) filed a complaint against the county executive of Mercer County and the board of chosen freeholders (board) of that county, wherein it sought:

(a) A determination that it was a separate political subdivision of the State of New Jersey, independent of the County of Mercer, a unit of government within the meaning

of N.J.S.A. 40:41A-28 and, therefore, unaffected by the adoption of the Charter Law by the County of Mercer;

(b) An injunction against defendants in any way attempting to subject plaintiff to the Administrative Code adopted by the board, and,

(c) An injunction against the county executive of Mercer County restraining him from exercising any authority given him by the Administrative Code of the county over plaintiff with respect to plaintiff's operation and activities under chapter 64A of Title 18A of the Revised Statutes of New Jersey.

The Board of Education of the Vocational Schools in the County of Mercer (Vo-Tech) joined in the action as an additional plaintiff, seeking the same relief, relying on Chapter 54 of Title 18A.

The trial judge stated the issue before him to be:

He concluded:

We disagree and reverse.

The Charter Law was enacted in 1972. Its goal was to give counties greater control over their own internal structure and fiscal ...


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