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|New Jersey municipal government|
|Walsh Act commission|
|1923 municipal manager|
|Faulkner Act forms|
|Changing form of municipal government|
|Charter Study Commission
The Optional Municipal Charter Law or Faulkner Act (N.J.S.A. § 40:69A-1, et seq.) provides New Jersey municipalities with a variety of models of local government. This legislation is called the Faulkner Act in honor of the late Bayard H. Faulkner, former mayor of Montclair, New Jersey and chairman of the Commission on Municipal Government.
The Faulkner Act offers four basic plans (mayor–council, council–manager, small municipality, and mayor–council–administrator) and two procedures by which the voters of a municipality can adopt one of these plans. The Act provides many choices for communities with a preference for a strong executive and professional management of municipal affairs. Twenty-one percent of the municipalities in New Jersey, including the six most populous cities (Newark, Jersey City, Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Elizabeth) all govern under the provisions of the Faulkner Act. More than half of all New Jersey residents reside in municipalities with Faulkner Act charters.
In all Faulkner Act municipalities, regardless of the particular form, citizens enjoy the right of initiative and referendum, meaning that proposed ordinances can be introduced directly by the people without action by the local governing body. This right is exercised by preparing a conforming petition signed by 10% of the registered voters who turned out in the last general election in an odd-numbered year (i. the most recent General Assembly election). Once the petition is submitted, the local governing body can vote to pass the requested ordinance, and if they refuse, it is then submitted directly to the voters.
The Faulkner Act was created to provide municipalities with greater flexibility than provided in New Jersey's traditional forms of government (city, township, borough, town and village) and to expand on the reforms provided in the Walsh Act and the 1923 Municipal Manager Law.
As originally enacted in 1950, the Faulkner Act provided for three forms of government: mayor–council, council–manager, and small municipality. Within each form, letter codes designated predefined aspects of each form and its individual arrangement of options, such as partisan or nonpartisan elections, concurrent or staggered terms, all at large or a combination of ward and at large seats.
In 1981, the Faulkner Act was significantly amended. The letter codes were eliminated, and the number of varieties within each plan was greatly increased. The council–manager plan was amended to include the option of having a mayor chosen by the electorate. A new form, mayor–council–administrator, was added. Municipalities were also given greater flexibility to amend their Faulkner Act charter without having to place the entire charter on the ballot.
Forms of government
There are four forms available to municipalities through the Faulkner Act:
- The mayor–council form features a mayor with strong powers. Municipalities under this plan establish three to ten executive departments, headed by a director appointed by the mayor with the consent of the council.
- The council–manager plan places complete responsibility for municipal affairs in the council. The council appoints a municipal manager who is the chief executive with broad authority. While the council–manager plan is quite similar to the 1923 Municipal Manager Law, the Faulkner Act version does not provide tenure for the municipal manager, who can be removed by a vote of the council.
- The small municipality plan can be adopted by communities with a population of fewer than 12,000. All legislative powers are vested in the council with the mayor presiding over council sessions and having both voice and vote. The small municipality form is essentially a blend of the features in the traditional borough and township forms of government.
- The mayor–council–administrator form is largely the borough form with the addition of an appointed professional administrator. Unlike the three other Faulkner Act plans, the mayor–council–administrator offers no optional variations in structure.