committee-of-for-the-repeal-of-ordinance-number-522-2013-of-the-borough ( 2014 )


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  •                   NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
                     APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
    
                                         SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                         APPELLATE DIVISION
                                         DOCKET NO. A-0870-13T3
    COMMITTEE OF PETITIONERS FOR
    THE REPEAL OF ORDINANCE NUMBER
    522 (2013) OF THE BOROUGH OF
    WEST WILDWOOD,                            APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
    
         Plaintiff-Respondent,                       May 15, 2014
    
    v.                                          APPELLATE DIVISION
    
    
    DONNA L. FREDERICK, ACTING
    MUNICIPAL CLERK OF THE BOROUGH
    OF WEST WILDWOOD, and THE BOROUGH
    OF WEST WILDWOOD,
    
         Defendants-Appellants.
    _______________________________
    
             Argued March 19, 2014 - Decided May 15, 2014
    
             Before     Judges   Sapp-Peterson,      Lihotz    and
             Maven.1
    
             On appeal from the Superior Court of New
             Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County,
             Docket No. L-338-13.
    
             Andrew J. Cafiero argued the cause for
             appellants     (Cafiero    and   Balliette,
             attorneys;   Mr.   Cafiero and William   J.
             Kaufmann, on the brief).
    
             Paul J. Baldini         argued    the    cause    for
             respondent.
    
         The opinion of the court was delivered by
    
    LIHOTZ, J.A.D.
    
    1
      Judge Maven did not participate in oral argument.              She joins
    the opinion with counsel's consent. R. 2:13-2(b)
        In      May     2013,     defendant       the     Borough      of    West       Wildwood
    
    (Borough) passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds
    
    to finance various capital improvements.                      Following publication
    
    of the ordinance, plaintiff, the Committee of Petitioners for
    
    the Repeal of Ordinance No. 522 (2013) of the Borough of West
    
    Wildwood,     sought        repeal    of      the    ordinance         via    referendum.
    
    Petitioning        Borough      voters,          plaintiff        procured         sixty-two
    
    signatures    and     submitted       the    petition        to   defendant        Donna    L.
    
    Frederick, Acting Municipal Clerk of the Borough.                                  Frederick
    
    rejected the petition, identifying specific notarial defects and
    
    explaining        plaintiff    failed       to      comply    with      the     applicable
    
    statute, which mandated names and addresses of five committee
    
    members be affixed to the petition when circulated.                                Plaintiff
    
    resubmitted         the      petition        after        correcting          the      noted
    
    deficiencies;       however,     Frederick          again    returned        the    petition
    
    stating the corrections were insufficient to cure the defects.
    
        Plaintiff filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs,
    
    demanding    presentation        of     the       referendum      to    voters       in    the
    
    November 2013 election.               Following a hearing, Judge Julio L.
    
    Mendez    entered     judgment       directing       the     Borough     to     place      the
    
    question challenging the ordinance on the 2013 general election
    
    ballot.    The Borough's request to stay the order was granted.
    
        On      appeal,       Frederick         and     the     Borough      (collectively,
    
    defendants) challenge the Law Division's consideration of the
    
    
                                                 2                                      A-0870-13T3
    plaintiff's        complaint,      arguing       the     protest      was    untimely.
    
    Alternatively, defendants challenge the judge's findings on two
    
    issues:      first, that plaintiff was not required to affix the
    
    names and addresses of five members on the petition prior to its
    
    circulation;       and    second,       that    Frederick's     rejection        of    the
    
    petition     on    the   basis    of    notarial       errors   was    arbitrary      and
    
    capricious.        We are not persuaded and affirm concluding a voter
    
    protest of a bond ordinance is governed by the procedures set
    
    forth in the Home Rule Act N.J.S.A. 40:49-27, which does not
    
    require      listing     the    Committee       of   Petitioners       found    in    the
    
    referendum provisions governing ordinance challenges, other than
    
    those for capital improvement indebtedness, in a municipality
    
    formed under the Walsh Act, N.J.S.A. 40:74-5.
    
                                               I.
    
          On May 3, 2013, the Borough introduced and passed Bond
    
    Ordinance No. 522 (2013) (ordinance).                   The ordinance authorized
    
    issuance of $470,250 in bonds to finance the cost of various
    
    capital improvements, including acquisition of a police sport
    
    utility vehicle, backhoe loader, street sweeper and skid steer;
    
    purchases for firefighters such as turn-out gear, flood valves,
    
    a   hydric    hose     press,    plasma    cutter      and   repairs    to     the    fire
    
    house;    purchase       of    office    equipment;      purchase      of    computers,
    
    software, and technology equipment for the Police Department;
    
    purchase      of   office      furniture       for   offices    in     Borough       Hall;
    
    
                                               3                                    A-0870-13T3
    replacement or upgrade of a fueling station; and acquisition of
    
    equipment for the Public Works Department.
    
         The ordinance was published in The Press of Atlantic City
    
    on May 9, 2013.    Thereafter, at a specially advertised May 20,
    
    2013 public meeting, the Borough passed the ordinance on its
    
    second and final reading.
    
         Plaintiff is comprised of five Borough registered voters:
    
    Anna M. Santora, Gerard P. McNamara, Frederick J. Schweikert,
    
    Herbert C. Frederick, and Anthony J. Santora.        The petition
    
    expressed it was drawn in compliance with N.J.S.A. 40:74-5, and
    
    contained the names and addresses of four of the five members,
    
    omitting Anthony J. Santora.2   Plaintiff's members circulated the
    
    petition seeking to repeal the ordinance or place a referendum
    
    before the voters in the upcoming election.    Plaintiff gathered
    
    sixty-two resident signatures, which exceeded fifteen percent of
    
    the votes cast in the preceding general election.3       Plaintiff
    
    then filed the    notarized petition with Frederick on June 7,
    
    2013.
    
    
    
    2
         Plaintiff actually submitted eight copies of the petition,
    each containing a varying number of voters' signatures.     For
    convenience we refer to documents by using the singular,
    petition.
    3
         Enclosed with the petition was a statement from Cape May
    County reflecting the Borough's electorate cast two hundred and
    thirty-two votes in the prior general assembly election.
    
    
                                     4                        A-0870-13T3
          By   letter   dated   June   15,   2013,   Frederick     rejected   the
    
    petition, listing several deficiencies.             First, she noted the
    
    petition was "defective because the petition d[id] not have the
    
    required number of Members of the Committee of Petitioners as
    
    per N.J.S.A. 40:74-5."       Second, the notarized month on two of
    
    the forms was illegible.       Third, one form reflected a notarized
    
    date of May 6, 2013, which was prior to the final adoption date
    
    of the ordinance.      Frederick explained because "the [p]etition
    
    was fatally flawed from the onset, . . . [it would] not be
    
    forwarded to the Board of Commissioners pursuant to N.J.S.A.
    
    40:74-5."
    
          In response, plaintiff amended the petition.               Anthony J.
    
    Santora's name was added below the names and addresses of the
    
    other four members.     Also, the notary, who executed the original
    
    attestation,    corrected    the   erroneous     date,   striking   a     line
    
    through the incorrect "May 6, 2013" and replacing it with "June
    
    6, 2013," the date voters signed the petition.            The notary also
    
    crossed out the illegible months and replaced them with "June,"
    
    adding her initials to these changes.            The amended petition was
    
    resubmitted on June 19, 2013.
    
          Frederick found the amended petition defective and returned
    
    it to plaintiff on June 25, 2013.            She explained the amended
    
    petition was merely the original petition, modified in a manner
    
    she   found   unacceptable    because    N.J.S.A.    40:74-5    required     a
    
    
                                         5                              A-0870-13T3
    petition to identify five committee members prior to gathering
    
    voters' signatures.           Frederick concluded the mere addition of
    
    the fifth petitioner, after voters had executed the petition,
    
    was   insufficient.           Further,    Frederick       took       issue    with     the
    
    correction    of     the    notarized    dates,    but    did        not    explain    the
    
    purported irregularity.
    
          On July 19, 2013, plaintiff filed an order to show cause
    
    and a verified complaint in lieu of prerogative writs demanding
    
    "judgment against the Borough and . . . Frederick[,] compelling
    
    the   suspension      of    [the     ordinance]    and    presentation         of     said
    
    [o]rdinance     to    the    voters"     along    with    compensatory         damages,
    
    punitive   damages,        attorney's    fees     and    such    other       relief    the
    
    court deemed just and appropriate.                 Judge Mendez presided over
    
    the evidentiary hearing held on the return date of the order to
    
    show cause.     Frederick and Anthony J. Santora testified.                         Judge
    
    Mendez requested the parties submit briefs and scheduled the
    
    matter for final argument on September 27, 2013.
    
          Despite      the     pending    legal   challenge         to    the    petition's
    
    rejection, Elaine Crowley, the Borough's Acting Chief Financial
    
    Officer, prepared a "Certificate of Down Payment" and Frederick
    
    prepared a "Clerk's Certificate" attesting to the ordinance's
    
    adoption and the denial of plaintiff's protests.                            These forms
    
    were submitted to bond counsel.               On July 26, 2013, the Borough
    
    secured and issued bond anticipation notes and Crowley executed
    
    
                                              6                                     A-0870-13T3
    a "Certificate of Determination and Award," selling the notes to
    
    Oppenheimer & Company, Philadelphia.                    The same day, Oppenheimer
    
    wired funds to the Borough's savings account.
    
          In a written opinion, Judge Mendez considered plaintiff's
    
    complaint.         He    first    determined         relaxation     of     the   statutory
    
    twenty-day     period       to     file    a       protest    to    an     ordinance     was
    
    necessary, in the interests of justice.                       Reviewing whether the
    
    petition     was    valid,       Judge    Mendez      concluded     the     petition,     as
    
    corrected, should have been accepted.                    He directed Frederick and
    
    the   Cape    May       County    Board    of       Elections      to    make    necessary
    
    arrangements to place a referendum question on the November 2013
    
    general election ballot.             The judge memorialized his decision in
    
    a   contemporaneous        order     filed      October      3,    2013.        Defendants'
    
    appeal followed.          The order was stayed pending our review.
    
    
                                                II.
    
          On     appeal,      defendants       challenge         the    court's      decision,
    
    arguing:      plaintiff's protest of the ordinance was untimely and
    
    its complaint should have been dismissed; the trial judge failed
    
    to harmonize the referendum requirements of the Walsh Act and
    
    erroneously relied on the provisions of the Home Rule Act; and
    
    the court erred in finding Frederick's rejection of the petition
    
    was arbitrary and capricious.
    
    
    
    
                                                   7                                   A-0870-13T3
          As a general rule in non-jury actions, we reverse a trial
    
    court's conclusions that are based on factual findings so wholly
    
    unsupportable as to result in a denial of justice.                         Rova Farms
    
    Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 
    65 N.J. 474
    , 483-84 (1974).
    
    See   also   R.   1:7-4;    Pressler        &     Verniero,    Current     N.J.    Court
    
    Rules, comment 2 on R. 1:7-4 (2014).                        However, we afford no
    
    special deference to a trial judge's "interpretation of the law
    
    and the legal consequences that flow from established facts,"
    
    Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 
    140 N.J. 366
    ,
    
    378 (1995), which are subject to our plenary review.                         Dep't of
    
    Envtl.   Prot.    v.   Kafil,       395    N.J.    Super.     597,   601   (App.   Div.
    
    2007).
    
                                                A.
    
          Determining the validity of a petition seeking referendum
    
    of the proposed bond ordinance, as well as a citizen's right to
    
    do so, requires review of statutes governing referenda.                       We will
    
    examine these statutory provisions below.                      Suffice it to say,
    
    each requires any request for referendum must be filed within
    
    twenty days from the date of publication, after final passage of
    
    the challenged ordinance.                 Further, Rule 4:69-6(b)(11), which
    
    governs actions in lieu of prerogative writs, (including any
    
    challenge    to    review       a    municipal        resolution      or    ordinance
    
    authorizing the issuance of notes or bonds) requires a complaint
    
    be filed within twenty days from the date of the publication
    
    
                                                8                                 A-0870-13T3
    following final passage of the ordinance.                            Upon the expiration
    
    of this twenty-day period, consideration of a challenge to a
    
    bond ordinance is generally barred.                      N.J.S.A. 40A:2-49.
    
           Here, the second and final reading of the ordinance was
    
    held    on   May    20,   2013,       with        publication        on    May     23,    2013.
    
    Plaintiff filed its petition with Frederick fifteen days later.
    
    Frederick rejected the petition on June 15, 2013.                                The amended
    
    petition was resubmitted on June 19, 2013.                           It too was rejected
    
    and    Frederick     declared        the    ordinance         operative,         pursuant    to
    
    N.J.S.A.     40:49-27(b),            as     of       June     25,     2013,       triggering
    
    commencement of the twenty-day period for protest.                            See R. 4:69-
    
    6(b)(11) (disallowing a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs
    
    to    challenge     a   bond    ordinance            filed    more    than       twenty   days
    
    following      publication                after       final         passage).       However,
    
    plaintiff's prerogative writs complaint was not filed until July
    
    19, 2013.
    
           The   trial      court   determined            the     "interests      of    justice"
    
    required     enlargement        of    the         time     period     to   challenge        the
    
    ordinance,     as       permitted          by       Rule     4:69-6(c),       because       the
    
    referendum concerned "important legal questions of great public
    
    interest."         Judge Mendez found it compelling that more than
    
    twenty-seven percent of the total voters participating in the
    
    last general election had executed the petition.                           Also, he found
    
    the Borough would not be unduly prejudiced as it was on notice
    
    
                                                    9                                    A-0870-13T3
    plaintiff intended to challenge the ordinance within the twenty-
    
    day    period.      Moreover,         the   delay,       in    part,    resulted     from
    
    confusion    regarding         the    propriety      of       procedural      provisions
    
    relied upon by Frederick and competing authorities regulating
    
    correction of notarial errors.                   Most important, Judge Mendez
    
    concluded the delay in filing was very brief and should not
    
    stand in the way of the voters' right to decide a critical
    
    financial issue.        Consequently, he concluded the complaint would
    
    not be time-barred and must be considered.
    
           Defendants      argue    the    judge     erred    because      the    twenty-day
    
    time bar must be strictly construed.                 We reject this contention.
    
    Such an interpretation would render inoperative the provisions
    
    of Rule 4:69-6(c), which specifically allows the expansion of
    
    the twenty-day period when the interests of justice require such
    
    a result.    See Schack v. Trimble, 
    28 N.J. 40
    , 48 (1958) (stating
    
    Rule 4:69-6(c) "is merely an attempt to restate in the form of a
    
    generalized standard, decisional exceptions which had already
    
    been engrafted upon the rule").
    
           Relaxation depends on "considerations of fairness," Borough
    
    of    Princeton   v.    Bd.    of     Chosen     Freeholders      of    the    Cnty.   of
    
    Mercer, 
    169 N.J. 135
    , 156 (2001), after taking into account "all
    
    relevant    equitable      considerations          under       the     circumstances."
    
    Pressler & Verniero, supra, comment 7.3 on R. 4:69-6(c).                               As
    
    Judge Mendez identified, "cases involving . . . important public
    
    
                                                10                                  A-0870-13T3
    rather than private interests[,] which require adjudication or
    
    clarification"         certainly   provide         the    equitable    considerations
    
    for such an exception.             Brunetti v. New Milford, 
    68 N.J. 576
    ,
    
    586 (1975).           See also Thornton v. Ridgewood, 
    17 N.J. 499
    , 511
    
    (1955) (finding laches should not be applied to a taxpayer suing
    
    on   behalf      of    a   municipality       to       prevent     alleged   misuse      of
    
    municipal funds, particularly where municipal contract at issue
    
    was executory at the time of suit); Newark Morning Ledger Co. v.
    
    N.J. Sports & Exposition Auth., 
    423 N.J. Super. 140
    , 158 (App.
    
    Div.   2011)     (finding      enlargement        of     forty-five-day      statute    of
    
    limitations under the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1
    
    to -13, appropriate, "coincident with the provisions of Rule
    
    4:69-6(c)").
    
           Here, the delay was merely four days and plaintiff "cannot
    
    be   said   to    have     slumbered    on    its      rights."       Hopewell    Valley
    
    Citizens' Group, Inc. v. Berwind Prop. Group Dev. Co., 
    204 N.J. 569
    , 585 (2011).           Further, prejudice to the Borough was minimal
    
    or non-existent.           Plaintiff expressed its "inten[t] to exercise
    
    [its] right to challenge [the] ordinance," by filing a petition
    
    of protest putting the Borough on notice.                        Indeed, plaintiff's
    
    complaint      was     filed   before     the      bond     sale    was   effectuated,
    
    stripping the Borough of a claim of reliance on the period of
    
    repose.     See, e.g., Jersey City Educ. Assoc. v. City of Jersey
    
    City, 
    316 N.J. Super. 245
    , 251-52 (App. Div. 1998), certif.
    
    
                                                 11                                  A-0870-13T3
    denied, 
    158 N.J. 71
     (1999) ("The approval of a municipal bond
    
    ordinance and the complexities            of preparing for the sale of
    
    municipal bonds must have the benefit of the repose arising from
    
    a statutory time-bar on continued litigation.").
    
        Finally, the matter raised an important public question of
    
    the mandated procedure for voters to exercise their rights to
    
    seek referendum and repeal of a significant expenditure of hard-
    
    earned   taxpayer       dollars,     which     would   incur    long-term
    
    indebtedness.       Judge Mendez correctly considered all facts and
    
    circumstances, including the length of the delay, plaintiff's
    
    diligence, the urgency of the proposed bond expenditures and the
    
    right of voters in this "relatively small borough" "to have a
    
    say" in this government decision affecting "a relatively large
    
    and important portion of the [Borough's] budget[.]"            See In re
    
    Petition for Referendum on City of Trenton Ordinance 09-02, 
    201 N.J. 349
    , 353 (2010) ("[Referenda] is an exercise in democracy
    
    that profoundly affects the relationship between the citizens
    
    and their government by affording the people the last word if
    
    they choose to take a stand against the wisdom of an ordinance
    
    that the government has enacted."); In re City of Margate City,
    
    
    424 N.J. Super. 242
    , 251 (App. Div. 2012) ("A court should be
    
    especially reluctant to restrictively construe a statute that
    
    establishes     a   right   to   a   public    referendum   regarding   an
    
    ordinance authorizing the incurring of an indebtedness.").              The
    
    
                                         12                          A-0870-13T3
    determination         allowing    consideration          of    plaintiff's     complaint
    
    was not an abuse of discretion.
    
                                                  B.
    
           "The New Jersey Constitution does not contain a referendum
    
    clause     permitting         voters     to        directly     challenge      state       or
    
    municipal legislative enactments."                    In re Ordinance 04-75, 
    192 N.J. 446
    ,    459    n.7     (2007).        A     voter's     right    to    do     so   is
    
    statutory.       The controversy at hand examines the provisions of
    
    two     statutes,       which     defendants         identify      as    containing          a
    
    perceived incongruity in the procedural requirements necessary
    
    for presentation of referendum to voters.                         Suggesting this is
    
    "an    issue    of    first     impression,"         defendants     assert     the     trial
    
    court erred by failing to harmonize N.J.S.A. 40:74-5 of the
    
    Walsh    Act    and    N.J.S.A.    40:49-27         of   the    Home    Rule   Act.         To
    
    provide    necessary          context,    we        first      detail   the    statutory
    
    provisions.
    
           The Borough is incorporated under the Commission Form of
    
    Government Law, more commonly known as the Walsh Act, N.J.S.A.
    
    40:70-1 to 40:76-27.            Under the Walsh Act citizens can challenge
    
    an ordinance requesting its repeal or seeking a referendum, as
    
    follows:
    
                   If within 20 days after the final passage of
                   an ordinance, except . . . ordinances
                   authorizing an improvement or the incurring
                   of an indebtedness, . . . a petition signed
                   by electors of the municipality equal in
    
    
                                                  13                                    A-0870-13T3
                 number to at least 15% of the entire vote
                 cast at the last preceding general election
                 at which members of the General Assembly
                 were elected protesting against the passage
                 of such ordinance, be presented to the
                 board, it shall thereupon be suspended from
                 going into operation and the board of
                 commissioners shall reconsider the ordinance
                 within 20 days of the presentation of the
                 petition to the board. If the ordinance is
                 not entirely repealed, the board shall
                 submit it . . . to the vote of the electors
                 of the municipality. . . . An ordinance so
                 submitted shall not become operative unless
                 a majority of the qualified electors voting
                 on the ordinance shall vote in favor
                 thereof.
    
                 The names and addresses of five voters,
                 designated   as   the    Committee  of  the
                 Petitioners,  shall   be   included  in the
                 petition.
    
                 [N.J.S.A. 40:74-5.]
    
           Also implicated in this appeal are provisions of the Home
    
    Rule    Act.        "The   Home   Rule    Act,   which   applies   to     every
    
    municipality in the State regardless of the form of government
    
    under which it operates, was enacted in 1917.             L. 1917, c. 152."
    
    Margate City, supra, 424 N.J. Super. at 245.             The Home Rule Act
    
    establishes     a    right   to   a   public     referendum   regarding     any
    
    ordinance authorizing the incurring of indebtedness.                N.J.S.A.
    
    40:49-27.4     This provision states in pertinent part:
    
    
    
    4
         We further note N.J.S.A. 40:49-9 addresses a right to a
    public referendum with respect to any ordinance authorizing
    improvements.
    
    
                                             14                         A-0870-13T3
             Any ordinance authorizing the incurring of
             any   indebtedness,    except   for   current
             expenses, shall become operative 20 days
             after the publication thereof after its
             final passage, unless within those 20 days a
             protest   against  the   incurring  of   such
             indebtedness shall be filed in the office of
             the municipal clerk, by a petition signed by
             registered voters of the municipality equal
             in number to at least 15% of the number of
             votes cast in the municipality at the most
             recent general election at which members of
             the General Assembly were elected, in which
             case such ordinance shall remain inoperative
             until a proposition for the ratification
             thereof shall be adopted, at an election to
             be held for that purpose, by a majority of
             the qualified voters of the municipality
             voting on the proposition[.]
    
             [Ibid.]
    
        As set forth above, plaintiff's petition identified it was
    
    prepared pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:74-5 of the Walsh Act; however,
    
    the original document included only four names and addresses of
    
    voters, "designated as the Committee of the Petitioners," rather
    
    than the statute's compulsory five.       Judge Mendez determined the
    
    designation of five members was unnecessary because the protest
    
    challenged   an       ordinance   authorizing    capital        improvement
    
    indebtedness,     a   subject   specifically   excluded    by    challenges
    
    pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:74-5 of the Walsh Act.            In addition, he
    
    relied on N.J.S.A. 40:49-27 of the Home Rule Act, which contains
    
    no requirement to identify the petitioners who are rallying a
    
    protest of a municipal indebtedness ordinance.
    
    
    
    
                                        15                             A-0870-13T3
           Defendants       argue      Judge    Mendez       erred       in        concluding     a
    
    petition      for   referendum        of        an    indebtedness         ordinance        was
    
    governed      solely    by   the    Home    Rule       Act,   with    no       Committee     of
    
    Petitioners requirement.             They assert the referendum provisions
    
    of the Walsh Act and the Home Rule Act must be read in pari
    
    materia, such that a petition for referendum under the Home Rule
    
    Act    must     also    comply      with        the     Committee         of     Petitioners
    
    requirement in N.J.S.A. 40:74-5 when submitted to the Clerk of a
    
    Walsh Act municipality.            We are not persuaded.
    
           The "overriding objective in determining the meaning of a
    
    statute is to 'effectuate the legislative intent in light of the
    
    language used and the objects sought to be achieved.'"                                McCann
    
    v. Clerk of Jersey City, 
    167 N.J. 311
    , 320 (2001) (quoting State
    
    v. Hoffman, 
    149 N.J. 564
    , 578 (1997)).                        "It is a cardinal rule
    
    of statutory construction that full effect should be given, if
    
    possible, to every word of a statute."                         Id. at 321 (internal
    
    quotation marks and citation omitted).                    While statutory language
    
    "'is   the     surest    indicator         of    the    Legislature's            intent[,]'"
    
    Lipkowitz v. Hamilton Surgery Ctr., LLC, 
    415 N.J. Super. 29
    , 35
    
    (App. Div. 2010) (quoting Alan J. Cornblatt, P.A. v. Barow, 
    153 N.J. 218
    , 231 (1998)), it is also incumbent that we "harmonize
    
    the individual sections and read the statute in the way that is
    
    most consistent with the overall legislative intent."                               Fiore v.
    
    Consol. Freightways, 
    140 N.J. 452
    , 466 (1995).
    
    
                                                16                                      A-0870-13T3
           Importantly, "[t]he referendum provision in the Home Rule
    
    Act is . . . useful and important, and [the courts] have an
    
    obligation          to    promote,      where        appropriate,          its     beneficial
    
    effects."          Retz v. Saddle Brook, 
    69 N.J. 563
    , 571 (1976).                              In
    
    the context presented here,
    
                      [a] court should be especially reluctant to
                      restrictively    construe   a    statute    that
                      establishes a right to a public referendum
                      regarding   an   ordinance    authorizing    the
                      incurring of an indebtedness.           The New
                      Jersey Constitution recognizes that there is
                      a   particularly   strong   need   for    public
                      participation, in the form of a referendum,
                      in    a   legislative    decision    to    incur
                      indebtedness.
    
                      [Margate    City,    supra,      424   N.J.       Super.       at
                      251.]
    
           This       court    recently     examined       whether      the     Home      Rule   Act
    
    applied to a Walsh Act municipality when voters filed a petition
    
    for    a    public       referendum    challenging        an    ordinance         authorizing
    
    municipal         indebtedness.         See     Margate       City,    supra,         424    N.J.
    
    Super. at 246.            In Margate City, we examined both statutes and
    
    determined the referendum provision of the Walsh Act, N.J.S.A.
    
    40:74-5,          specifically        excludes       "ordinances           authorizing        an
    
    improvement or the incurring of an indebtedness," while the Home
    
    Rule       Act,    N.J.S.A.    40:49-27,        is    directed       to    repealing         "any
    
    ordinance          authorizing        the    incurring         of     an    indebtedness."
    
    Margate City, supra, 424 N.J. Super. at 246-48.                            We rejected the
    
    trial       court's       restrictive       reading      of    N.J.S.A.          40:74-5,      as
    
    
                                                  17                                       A-0870-13T3
    prohibiting citizens in a Walsh Act community from exercising
    
    the right to petition for repeal of indebtedness ordinances.
    
    Id. at 248.      We concluded the Walsh Act provision, N.J.S.A.
    
    40:74-5, as now constituted, was intended to codify the Supreme
    
    Court's holding in Wethling v. Bd. of Comm'rs of the City of
    
    Orange, 
    94 N.J.L. 36
     (Sup. Ct. 1920), and the Home Rule Act
    
    applied to Walsh Act communities.      Margate City, supra, 424 N.J.
    
    Super. at 248.      In doing so, we concluded Wethling's holding
    
    remained unchanged: a referendum on an ordinance authorizing the
    
    incurring of indebtedness is governed by the Home Rule Act,
    
    N.J.S.A. 40:49-27.    Id. at 246, 248 (citing Wethling, supra, 94
    
    N.J.L. at 38-39).    We held:
    
             the evident intent of the 1937 revision [to
             N.J.S.A.   40:74-5]   was  to   preserve the
             applicability    of   the   Home    Rule Act
             requirements for obtaining a referendum
             regarding   an   ordinance   authorizing the
             incurring of an indebtedness rather than to
             completely abolish the right of [Walsh Act]
             municipal residents to petition for a public
             referendum regarding such ordinances.
    
             [Id. at 250.]
    
        Although   Margate   City   did   not    specifically    examine   the
    
    procedural Committee of Petitioners requirement at issue here,
    
    this court concluded the Legislature was aware of the statutes
    
    it adopted and well-understood the provisions for referendum in
    
    the two statutes were not identical.        Id. at 246-50.
    
    
    
    
                                     18                              A-0870-13T3
           Here, Judge Mendez closely examined the language of the
    
    Home    Rule     Act    and    rejected          defendants'         argument     that        the
    
    omission of the Committee of Petitioners requirement was a mere
    
    legislative oversight.              Contrary to defendants' suggestion, we
    
    find no error in Judge Mendez's conclusion that the statutory
    
    distinctions were purposeful.
    
           The Home Rule Act is restricted to indebtedness challenges
    
    and includes precise procedures particularly suited to the type
    
    of bond ordinance being protested.                          The Home Rule Act favors
    
    taxpayers, because they must bear the financial burden of bond
    
    ordinances       long   after      the    municipal          officials    who     agreed       to
    
    incur   debt     have   departed         public        office.       As   noted    by    Judge
    
    Mendez, if the Legislature intended to add the Committee of
    
    Petitioners       requirement        to     the         Home     Rule     Act     referendum
    
    procedures added in 1986, it could have done so.
    
           It   is    firmly      established            that    "'[t]he      Legislature          is
    
    presumed to know the law.'"                David v. Gov't Emps. Ins. Co., 
    360 N.J. Super. 127
    , 143 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 
    178 N.J. 251
    
    (2003).     Certainly, the Legislature is conversant with its own
    
    enactments,       particularly           when    a      statute      is   considered          for
    
    amendment.         Therefore,        the        Home     Rule     Act's    absence       of     a
    
    requirement to identify a five-member Committee of Petitioners
    
    when    protesting      a   bond    ordinance          was     not   an   accident      or    an
    
    oversight.        To the contrary, the Home Rule Act's exclusion of
    
    
                                                    19                                   A-0870-13T3
    the Committee of Petitioners requirement for a public referendum
    
    challenging a municipality's decision to incur long-term debt
    
    was decisive and in keeping with "the public policy favoring
    
    voter     participation       in     a       legislative       decision     to      incur
    
    indebtedness."        Margate City, supra, 424 N.J. Super. at 251.
    
    Indeed,      this    view     aligns         with    the     State   Constitution's
    
    recognition of a "strong need for public participation, in the
    
    form    of   a   referendum,       in    a    legislative       decision    to      incur
    
    indebtedness."       Ibid.      See also N.J. Const. art. 8, § 2, ¶ 3
    
    (setting forth the Debt Limitation Clause, which provides any
    
    statute authorizing state indebtedness "shall [not] take effect
    
    until it has been submitted to the people at a general election
    
    and approved by a majority of the legally qualified voters of
    
    the State voting thereon").
    
           Following    our     review      of   the    relevant    provisions       of    the
    
    Walsh Act and the Home Rule Act, we conclude the referendum
    
    procedures contained in the Home Rule Act, governing challenges
    
    to indebtedness ordinances do not require listing petitioners.
    
    Therefore, we reject defendants' challenge essentially for the
    
    reasons set forth in Judge Mendez's written opinion.
    
           Having determined plaintiff fulfilled the requirements of
    
    N.J.S.A. 40:49-27(a) to -27(c), the petition should have been
    
    accepted.        Further,     the        ordinance         should    have    remained
    
    
    
    
                                                 20                                  A-0870-13T3
    inoperative       until    ratified        or    repealed       at    the     next     general
    
    election.       N.J.S.A. 40:49-27.
    
                                                  C.
    
          Defendants'        last     argument       seeks      reversal     of      the    finding
    
    that Frederick arbitrarily and capriciously rejected plaintiff's
    
    petition    for       notarial     defects.           Although       Frederick         properly
    
    identified       the    notary     errors       in    the     petition      as     originally
    
    submitted and informed plaintiff of the deficiencies, she did
    
    not     inform     plaintiffs       how     to        address    the        defects.          In
    
    particular,       Frederick       did   not        instruct     plaintiffs          that     the
    
    corrections required execution of a new notarial act affixed on
    
    a newly prepared document.              She did not explain plaintiff would
    
    again    need    to     acquire    signatures          from    voters       supporting       the
    
    petition.        Further,        Frederick's         subsequent       rejection         of   the
    
    corrected petition also made no mention of the basis of her
    
    objection        to      the      notary's           corrections,        exhibiting            an
    
    unreasonable       exercise        of   her        discretional       authority.             See
    
    D'Ascensio v. Benjamin, 
    142 N.J. Super. 52
    , 55 (App. Div.) ("In
    
    the   absence      of     such    statutory          direction,      a   clerk         has   the
    
    discretionary power to adopt any rational means of performing
    
    his   [or   her]       duty,     subject    to       judicial    review       to    determine
    
    whether he [or she] has abused his [or her] discretion and acted
    
    in an arbitrary manner."), certif. denied, 
    71 N.J. 526
     (1976).
    
    
    
    
                                                  21                                       A-0870-13T3
          Defendants        argue     Frederick       reasonably      supported        her
    
    decision to reject the petition by relying on a provision of the
    
    New     Jersey      Notary    Handbook,       Chapter    8—Prohibited    Acts      and
    
    Penalties, which states in pertinent part:
    
                  The New Jersey Notary Section lists these
                  prohibitions for notaries:
    
                  1.     You   may   not   pre-date  a   notarial
                         certificate to a date earlier than the
                         date   on    which   the   corresponding
                         document was executed.
    
                         . . . .
    
                  13.    A notary should not amend a notarial
                         certificate after the notarization is
                         complete.    If the notary fails to
                         complete the notarial certificate with
                         all the elements required by law while
                         the person is present, the certificate
                         should not be changed later.  Instead,
                         a new notarial act with a new notarial
                         certificate is necessary.5
    
    Plaintiff, on the other hand, identified information supplied by
    
    the National Notary Association stating that when a notary errs
    
    in "completing certificate wording, the best way to correct the
    
    error    is   to    line     through   the    mistake,    write   in   the   correct
    
    information, and initial and date the correction so that anyone
    
    
    
    
    5
         New Jersey Notary Handbook (Am. Soc'y of Notaries, 11th ed.
    1999-2012).
    
    
    
                                                 22                              A-0870-13T3
    receiving the document knows who corrected the certificate and
    
    when."6
    
          Judge Mendez found fault with Frederick's handling of this
    
    issue stating, "if a clerk desires an amendment to comply with a
    
    specific    guidance     manual    to    the       exclusion          of   other    guidance
    
    materials, she or he must communicate this desire to the voters
    
    at the time of rejection."          We agree.
    
          Contrary     to    defendants'         assertions,           Frederick        did       not
    
    provide    plaintiff     guidance       or    direction          on    how   and    why       she
    
    believed    correction     of   the     identified             deficiencies        should      be
    
    achieved.     She merely noted the defects without further comment.
    
    In   rejecting     the   corrected       petition,             Frederick     provided          no
    
    specificity as to the problem with the notarial amendments; she
    
    summarily    explained     that     "the          subsequent          correcting        of    the
    
    notarized dates by the notary [was] also flawed."                             Frederick's
    
    unexplained rejection was an arbitrary and capricious exercise
    
    of   her    authority,     which      impeded            the    Borough      voters          from
    
    exercising     a    fundamental       right         of     participation           in     their
    
    governance.        After all, "the 'right of referendum' should be
    
    liberally     construed    to     further          'the        legislative     policy          of
    
    
    6
         Notary Bulletin, Nat'l Notary Ass'n, http://www. national
    notary.org/bulletin/best_practices/quiz_answers/corrections.html
    (June 1, 2011).
    
    
    
    
                                                 23                                      A-0870-13T3
    encouraging     citizen   interest        and   participation   in      local
    
    government.'"     In re Ordinance 04-75, supra, 192 N.J. at 455
    
    (quoting Menendez v. City of Union City, 
    211 N.J. Super. 169
    ,
    
    172 (App. Div. 1986)).
    
        Following our review, we affirm the October 3, 2013 order
    
    substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Mendez in his
    
    written opinion.     R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A).         The imposed stay of the
    
    order is vacated.
    
        Affirmed.
    
    
    
    
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