Q I'm an elected local official. I saw that the legislature recently passed and Governor Corzine signed a law that permits municipalities to set strict absentee policies for service on authorities, boards, and commissions. I am not sure I understand this new legislation. We currently have a borough rule that requires board members to attend a certain percentage of meetings. Based on how many meetings they miss, we will or will not re-appoint them. Will this law affect our policy?
A The section you ask about allows municipalities to adopt a lower absentee threshold than is mentioned in the statute, if it goes no lower than six weeks, or three consecutive meetings, whichever is longer. Since your boards meet monthly, you would fall under the three consecutive meetings section (i.e., three meetings, if you meet once a month is three months, which is longer than six weeks). Thus, for a board meeting monthly, your town cannot adopt an absentee policy that would deem a position vacant if the occupant missed less than three meetings.
This amendment only affects declaring an office vacant during the term of the occupant. You are free to adopt a lower threshold for reappointment. You are completely free to not reappoint someone if they miss two meetings or one meeting or three non-consecutive meetings. This amendment does not affect that.
The law does not allow you to have a position declared vacant during the year if a person misses only one or two consecutive meetings. From what I understand, your town did not do that previously. You looked at attendance in the area of reappointment, which is completely unaffected by this amendment.
Q We have a “weak” mayor system with a three-member township committee. In our form of government, the post of mayor rotates among the committee members.
As far as appointments go, I am not sure how the law is applied to a ‘weak’ mayor system, and if it is the same as when there is an elected mayor. In the eyes of the law does that matter? My concern is whether the other two township committee members can agree to let the other committeeman be mayor, but try to block his appointments and whether it matters that it is a “weak” or elected mayor.
In addition, what happens if, somewhere down the road, we end up with an acting mayor? Will they be able to make appointments as well?
A The favorite answer of any law school professor is “it depends.” That answer likely applies in this situation. For example, take the planning board. The mayor or Class I member of the board serves during the pendency of his/her municipal office. The term of office of Class II and III members of the board is for one year or for the term of their office, whichever is shorter. The term of board membership for the member of the environmental commission, be he or she a Class II or Class IV appointee, is three years or during the pendency of his/her term on the environmental commission whichever terminates first. The term of board membership for Class IV members is four years, except for Class IV members who are also members of the zoning board of adjustment or board of education, in which case their term of membership on the planning board either would be four years or would terminate when their membership on the other board terminated, whichever occurred first.
Thus, in the case of the Planning Board, the new mayor would take his or her place on the board when they become mayor, and would make appointments as the terms of the members expire. This holds true in a strong or weak mayor system. Of course, some appointments may need the approval of the rest of the committee members. Even if they do not, there may be controversial appointments that the committee would seek to block.
Most townships also elect a deputy mayor. Even if they do not, an acting mayor exercises all the powers and responsibilities of a duly elected mayor. His or her appointments would be valid and would need to be recognized by the town. The only exceptions are in cases such as the planning board, where the mayor or his designee has a seat. Such positions end at the same time as the mayoral term
This column is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.