N.J.S.A. 40:49-2 specifies the procedure a municipality must follow to pass an ordinance. First, the governing body must introduce the ordinance at a public meeting (called a “first reading”) and publish the fact that the ordinance was introduced. Second, not less a week after introduction, the proposal can be given a “second reading” at a public meeting, where after a public hearing, the governing body may vote to enact the ordinance.

The statute, however, presumably to save meeting time and publishing costs, does not require the municipality to read and publish the proposed ordinance in its entirety. Rather, the law allows the proposed ordinance to be read “by title” and published “by title” along with a “concise statement prepared by the clerk of the governing body setting forth the purpose of the ordinance, and the time and place when and where a copy of the ordinance can be obtained without cost by any member of the general public who wants a copy of the ordinance.”

While this seems fairly clear, the Borough of Collingswood (Camden County) is interpreting the statute to permit the Borough to introduce ordinances that have not yet been reduced to writing.

According to a June 24, 2011 article by Brett Ainsworth of The Retrospect (http://theretrospect.com), the Collingswood Board of Commissioners introduced “by title” an ordinance governing outdoor cafes at its Monday, June 20th meeting. On Wednesday, June 22nd, Ainsworth asked borough administrator Brad Stokes for the text of the cafe ordinance that had been formally introduced two days earlier. Stokes advise him that since the statute permits ordinances to be introduced by “title only,” the Borough was allowed to formally introduce the ordinance even though it had not been written down. A July 1st article by Ainsworth attributes to Mayor Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley the position that “the practice of introducing measures without a completed written version has been done for years in the borough and is perfectly legal.”

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]