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Municipal Council v. Essex County Board of Elections

Decided: July 16, 1992.

MUNICIPAL COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEWARK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ESSEX COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, PATRICIA MCGARRY DRAKE, ESSEX COUNTY CLERK, AND CARMINE CASCIANO, SUPERINTENDENT OF ELECTIONS, DEFENDANTS



Cassini, J.s.c.

Cassini

Plaintiff, Municipal Council of the City of Newark (hereinafter "Newark"), moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the defendant Essex County Board of Elections (hereinafter "Board") violated the Open Public Meetings Act (hereinafter "OPMA"), N.J.S.A. 10:4-6, et seq.

In the Spring of 1991, the Board met with the City Clerk of each municipality within the county to redraw the ward lines pursuant to the Municipal Ward Law, N.J.S.A. 40:44-9, et seq. The adjustment of the election district lines was approved by the Board at a meeting on May 19, 1991.

Thereafter, at a February 28, 1992 meeting, the Board adjusted several election districts in the eastern and central wards of Newark. This action was rescinded due to technical errors that occurred at the meeting. On March 9, 1992, the Board met and again adjusted the boundaries of the eastern and central wards of Newark.

Notice of the February 28, 1992 and March 9, 1992 meetings did not meet the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6, et seq., because the notices were published in only one newspaper and were not filed with the county clerk. In addition, neither of the notices listed the meeting agenda, to the extent known, contrary to the requirements of the statute.

A Board meeting was then scheduled for May 29, 1992. This meeting was properly noticed by filing the notice with the county clerk, publishing the notice in two newspapers, complete with the proposed agenda, posting the notice and making a press alert. In short, this meeting was in compliance with the OPMA. At the meeting, the Board considered the redistricting de novo.

Newark now opposes and the new election boundaries in the central and east wards, as adopted by the Board at the May 29, 1992 meeting, and is seeking a partial summary judgment voiding the Board's redistricting due to the Board's failure to provide adequate notice of the earlier meetings, contrary to the requirements of the OPMA, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6, et seq.

It is apparent, and defendant concedes that, the meetings of the Board on February 28, and March 9, 1992 did not comply with N.J.S.A. 10:4-8, in that the notices of those meetings were not filed with the Essex County Clerk; the agendas were not published to the extent known and although there was some form of notice of the meetings, the notices were published in only one newspaper.

It is defendants' position, however, that any inadequacy concerning the above meetings was cured by the Board's properly noticed meeting held on May 29, 1992, that the Board at that meeting considered the redistricting de novo and that such consideration constituted corrective or remedial action as provided for in N.J.S.A. 10:4-15. The statute, in relevant part, provides:

". . . a public body may take corrective or remedial action by acting de novo at a public meeting held in conformity with this act and other applicable law regarding any action which may otherwise be voidable pursuant to this section . . . ."

In addition, plaintiff raises the issue of whether the Board complied with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 19:4-15, which postpones the effectiveness of redistricting until after the General Election if effected less than 75 days before the Primary Election. In this case the Primary was June 2, 1992. Plaintiff's argument is that the action taken by the Board on May 29, 1992, four days before the Primary Election, must be postponed until after the General Election based upon N.J.S.A. 19:4-15, because the Board's prior actions were ineffective under the OPMA. However, defendant argues ...


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