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Fulbrook v. City of Camden

A-3076-10T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

REDEVELOPMENT; CONFLICT OF INTEREST — If state law allows one person to hold two governmental roles, then it is not a conflict of interest in the land use and redevelopment process if that person serves in two roles in the process.

A municipality’s resident challenged an amendment to a redevelopment plan. He alleged that the resolution was tainted and invalid because of dual office holding by two individuals involved in the process. One was both the executive director of the redevelopment agency and the municipality’s director of development and planning. The other was both chairman of the redevelopment agency and the municipality’s chief operating officer. The resident claimed that the chairman of the redevelopment agency should not have presided over the meeting or voted for the resolution approving the change because the redevelopment agency was subordinate to, and under the control of, the municipality’s chief operating officer. Since the chairman occupied both roles, he argued the dual roles were incompatible and any action or vote taken as chairman of the redevelopment agency was void. The resident also claimed that the executive director, as director of the redevelopment agency, had an obligation to submit any proposed plan amendments to the redevelopment agency before forwarding it to the municipal council. However, she submitted it to the council in her other capacity as director of development and planning for the municipality without having first sent it to the redevelopment agency. Thus, according to the resident, this created a conflict of interest which should result in nullifying any action she took in her conflicting roles.

The lower court rejected the resident’s claims, finding that there was no evidence that the dual roles held by the two had any impact on the substance of the planning board or municipality’s actions in approving the amendment. It noted that the common law doctrine of incompatibility applies when there is a conflict or inconsistency in the function of two roles. However, if the legislature determines that one person can hold two roles, then the courts cannot interfere. In the case of the executive director/director of planning, the lower court found that the municipal ordinance specifically allowed the executive director of the redevelopment agency to serve a director of planning. Therefore, there was no conflict. With respect to the chairman/chief operating officer, the lower court found that the chairman/chief operating officer did not taint the amendment process because he was appointed on an interim basis under the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act to oversee and direct all critical operations of the municipality. That included participating in decisions relating to the revitalization and rehabilitation of the municipality. Therefore, his dual roles as chairman of the redevelopment agency and as chief operating officer of the municipality were not inconsistent. Furthermore, the redevelopment agency did not play an essential role in the matter since the municipal council was not required to abide by the agency’s recommendation. In addition, the lower court noted that he resigned both positions before the vote.

The resident appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed for the reasons provided by the lower court. The Court agreed that the chairman/chief operating officer’s dual positions were not problematic because neither position impacted the validity of the ordinance since the municipal counsel did not require the redevelopment agency’s prior approval. Regarding the executive director/director of planning, the municipal ordinance specifically allowed both positions to be held by the same person, so there was no conflict.


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