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Coletti v. Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: April 20, 1987.

LOUIS J. COLETTI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNION COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.

Antell, Brody and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'Annunzio, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

D'annunzio

The issue is whether a Board of Chosen Freeholders (Board) may remove a county manager without an adjudicatory hearing at which the Board would have the burden of establishing good cause for removal.

Plaintiff was appointed Union County Manager by the Board in June, 1984. His relationship with the Board was stormy and

marked by conflict. For example, in January, 1985 plaintiff requested an investigation by the county prosecutor of plaintiff's allegations that the Board violated the local budget law by authorizing the expenditure of funds without written certifications that those funds were available. In February, 1985 plaintiff commenced an action against the Board in the Superior Court for a declaration that he, and not the Board, had the power to appoint special labor negotiators for the county.

Because of these conflicts and other disputes, the Board retained the services of a law firm in August, 1985 to assist it in dealing with plaintiff. On September 5, 1985, after the Board received its attorneys' report, the Board adopted resolution 495-8. The resolution suspended Coletti, with pay, from his position as county manager pending a public hearing to be held on September 25, 1985. The resolution generally charged that Coletti had acted irresponsibly and unprofessionally, that he had refused to comply with Board policies and legislation, that he had failed to properly communicate and cooperate with the Board and that he sought to usurp the Board's powers and responsibilities. This recitation of general complaints was followed by 19 paragraphs of more specific allegations.

In response to resolution 495-8, plaintiff commenced this action alleging that the Board had no authority to temporarily suspend him. Plaintiff sought an injunction prohibiting the Board from interfering with the performance of his duties and a declaration that he was entitled to an adjudicatory hearing before he could be suspended. Plaintiff further alleged that resolution 495-8 was adopted in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq.

Judge Beglin issued an order to show cause but denied plaintiff temporary injunctive relief.*fn1

On October 1, 1985 the Board held a public hearing to consider Coletti's removal. The Board submitted no evidence or testimony to support its charges, but it listened to a presentation by plaintiff and his counsel in rebuttal of the Board's charges. The Board also heard from several members of the public. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board adopted resolution 686-5 which removed Coletti as county manager effective immediately.

Thereafter, plaintiff amended his complaint by consent and sought a judgment invalidating resolution 686-5 and restoring him to his position as county manager.

On October 22, 1985, the adjourned return date of the order to show cause, Judge Beglin, in a comprehensive oral opinion, denied plaintiff relief and entered judgment in favor ...


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