In many small communities in New Jersey, elected municipal officials wear many civic hats. These dedicated public servants not only offer their time to be on their township committees, but also serve on the volunteer fire company or emergency squad.
Historically, these elected officials were barred from voting on any matter before the governing body concerning the fire company or rescue squad they were volunteering with. At times, this blanket prohibition created problems for the governing body which could not muster a quorum to take action on such issues.
In response, the New Jersey State Legislature adopted Public Law 2017 c.181 which amended existing statutes to create an exception to this absolute prohibition. Both statutes were amended to include language that “[i] n municipalities below 5,000 in population, recusal from such votes shall only be required for officers, directors and trustees” of the volunteer fire company or rescue squad. Accordingly, while the general rule still exists that bars municipal officials serving on a volunteer rescue squad or fire company from voting on matters concerning these organizations, an exception has been carved out for elected officials in municipalities having a population of less than 5,000. In these smaller communities, an elected official may vote on such a matter, provided she is not an officer, director or trustee with the volunteer fire company or rescue squad she is serving on.
It is anticipated that this new law will help ensure a quorum exists to enable the governing body to take action on matters involving the volunteer fire company or rescue squad. The new law will also not force an individual to quit serving her fire company or rescue squad once she is elected to her municipality's governing body.