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Shapiro v. Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: November 12, 1980.

PETER SHAPIRO, ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ESSEX COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS, DEFENDANT



Baime, J.d.c. (temporarily assigned).

Baime

This case involves a question of first impression. At issue is whether the Optional County Charter Law (Charter Law), N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. , authorizes the county executive or the board of freeholders (board) to determine the salaries of county employees. Plaintiff contends that the statutory scheme empowers the county executive to set salaries. Defendant argues that the authority to fix the salaries of county personnel remains with the board.

The facts are not in dispute and are essentially a matter of public record. Essex County adopted the County Executive form of government on November 7, 1978. Both plaintiff and defendant assumed office under this new plan on November 13, 1978. From that date until April 23, 1980 plaintiff set the salaries of all administrative employees other than himself, the

county administrator, department heads and the board of freeholders, this task being expressly granted to defendant.*fn1 On March 26, 1980 defendant enacted a comprehensive salary ordinance.*fn2 This ordinance purported to establish the salaries of all administrative employees. Plaintiff vetoed this ordinance on April 15, 1980. Defendant subsequently overrode plaintiff's veto. Plaintiff thereupon commenced this suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the authority to set salaries is vested in the county executive. Both plaintiff and defendant seek summary judgment.

In support of his motion plaintiff contends that having the salaries of employees determined by the county executive fulfills the major purpose of the Charter Law, which is to create a more efficient and accountable government. Plaintiff argues that if the salaries are determined by the board, the county executive's duty to negotiate the contracts of employees, specifically mandated in N.J.S.A. 40:41A-36(i), would be circumvented. Plaintiff further contends that should the board be permitted to set salaries, it would be able to dismiss county employees, thereby accomplishing indirectly that which it is prohibited from doing directly.*fn3 Plaintiff's final argument is that the general statute relied upon by the board, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-10, which authorizes defendant to establish salary levels, is inapplicable since it is inconsistent with the Charter Law. The Charter Law contains a provision whereby the board is made responsible for setting the salaries for itself, the county executive, the county administrator and all department heads. N.J.S.A. 40:41A-100(d). Plaintiff contends that by designating those employees for whom the board may set salaries, all others are implicitly excluded from its control.

In support of its motion defendant contends that the authority to set salaries is vested in the board by virtue of its inherent power to adopt ordinances and resolutions it deems necessary for the good governance of the county.*fn4 N.J.S.A. 40:41A-41(b). Defendant argues that the setting of salaries is a totally legislative function, and that it, therefore, is within its purview. It further argues that the establishment of salary levels by plaintiff is contrary to the goal of a more accountable county government. It is contended by defendant that only some 50 to 70 of the 7,000 county employees would be affected by this decision, all others being represented by bargaining units in contract negotiations.

The novel question presented here is one of statutory construction. It is to be noted at the outset that the language of the Charter Law is not without its ambiguities. Nevertheless, I find that plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment. My conclusion in this regard is grounded upon what I perceive to be the plain legislative design which is to vest in the county executive the sole authority to effectuate and administer legislative policy as set by the board. Further, public policy considerations militate strongly in favor of the county executive's position.

I

Certain prefatory comments are in order. It is axiomatic that in construing a statute the role of the judiciary is to

give effect to the intention of the Legislature. Monmouth Cty. v. Wissell , 68 N.J. 35 (1975); Mason v. Civil Service Comm'n , 51 N.J. 115 (1968); Asbury Park Bd. of Ed. v. Hoek , 38 N.J. 213 (1962); Harvey v. Essex Cty. Freeholder Bd. , 30 N.J. 381 (1959). The legislative intent may be implied from the language of a statute or inferred on grounds of policy or reasonableness. Franklin Estate, Inc. v. Edison Tp. , 142 N.J. Super. 179 (App.Div.), aff'd 73 N.J. 462 (1976); Harvey v. Essex Cty. Freeholders Bd., supra 30 N.J. at 392. In seeking the intent of the Legislature, any history which may be of aid must be consulted. State v. Madden , 61 N.J. 377 (1972). In this regard, the reports of special committees or commissions appointed to study and suggest ...


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