Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong ruled a referendum petition with the signatures of 268 voters to be valid thereby permitting the voters to decide whether the City’s police department will have to reduce the number of lieutenants from 5 to 1 and whether the number of sergeants will be reduced from 7 to 5.
The referendum petition was submitted to the Wildwood City Clerk on November 16, 2010 and then amended and resubmitted on November 29, 2010. The Wildwood City Commission had passed an ordinance on October 27, 2010 reducing the number of police lieutenants and sergeants. Residents were opposed to the ordinance and drafted a referendum petition. Referendum petitions are legally enforceable and require municipal governments to either repeal the ordinance described in the petition or place the ordinance on the ballot for voters to decide its fate. Per state law, the number of registered voters signing the petition must total at least 15% of the number of votes cast in the last election for members of the General Assembly.
In Wildwood, the City Solicitor advised the City Commission that the referendum petition was invalid because it was untimely filed and because the signatures were invalid. Per the Press of Atlantic City, the Committee of Petitioners for a Referendum on this particular ordinance hired Atlantic City attorney Colin Bell to represent them. The first petition listed the wrong ordinance number although the ordinance number on the petition reflected that given the ordinance by the City Commission. After the City Commission changed the ordinance number, the referendum petition was re-drafted to reflect the new ordinance number and new signatures were collected. The amended petition was submitted but not accepted by the Wildwood City Commission.
With Tuesday’s ruling by Judge Armstrong, the petition was declared legally valid and the City Commission will either have to repeal the ordinance reducing the number of lieutenants and sergeants or place the ordinance on the ballot for the voters to approve or reject. New Jersey State law states the timeline to be followed for placing the ordinance on the ballot. The ordinance is legally required to be placed on the ballot in the next general election or regular municipal election to be held between 40 and 90 days. If there is no general or regular election scheduled to be held within 90 days, a special election is required to be held in the next 40 to 60 days from the date that the petition could have been withdrawn by the Referendum Committee.