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Appeals Panel Nixes Christie COAH Plan

Court rules that the governor lacks authority to reorganize an independent agency, saying future of Council on Affordable Housing is up to state Legislature.

A state appeals panel has overturned Gov. Chris Christie's reorganization of New Jersey's affordable housing bureaucracy, saying the governor lacked authority to abolish an independent agency.

Christie issued an executive order in June 2011 that eliminated the state Council on Affordable Housing and transferred its responsibilities to the state Department of Community Affairs.

Christie says he will appeal the decision.

"We are obviously disappointed with the court decision, which only perpetuates the nightmare New Jersey has endured for decades with the COAH bureaucracy," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.

In its ruling, written by Judge Philip S. Charchman, the appellate panel said that the state Reorganization Act "does not grant the Governor the power to abolish a legislatively created, representative, independent authority that is 'in but not of' the Executive Branch or any department in that branch of the government." The panel found that Christie "exceeded his authority under the Reorganization Act in abolishing COAH."

The authority to "abolish COAH rests exclusively with the Legislature," the panel said.

"The framers (of the state constitution) acknowledged the principle that the power to create and abolish such agencies and to alter such functions resided within the legislative process, involving both the Legislature and the Executive."

COAH had been created in the early 1980s by the state Legislature in response to two lawsuits — known as Mount Laurel I and Mount Laurel II — that ruled that towns had a responsibility to provide affordable housing within their borders. The rulings banned so-called exclusionary zoning — which the court defined as zoning designed to limit housing available to low-income residents.

The Legislature created COAH to create and oversee new affordable housing rules, which mandated that towns provide housing. Many suburban communities opposed COAH and it has been a point of political contention for nearly 25 years.

The Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group that brought the suit, lauded the appellate panel's ruling.

“The Appellate Division properly found, based on a careful reading of the original intent of New Jersey’s statutes and constitution, that Gov. Christie simply does not have the power to unilaterally abolish independent agencies he doesn’t like," said Associate Director Kevin D. Walsh.

"In doing so, the Court properly protected the independence of agencies such as the Election Law Enforcement Commission, State Ethics Commission, Public Defender, and dozens of other agencies that would have been subject to gubernatorial abolition if the plan for COAH had been upheld. The Court required the diverse interests represented in independent agencies to have a voice, as the Legislature intended.”

Bill Dressel, executive director of the state League of Municipalities, said the ruling does not alter the need for housing reform in New Jersey.

"When legislative efforts reached an impasse, the governor reasonably sought to use his powers under the Reorganization Act," he said. "The reversal by the court does not obscure the need for reform. The only issue is what shape the reform will take.”

State Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-Union), who was the prime sponsor of the housing legislation vetoed by Christie, backed the court decision and added that any reform plan must meet court muster.

"In order to develop a plan which will stand the test of court scrutiny, we have to work together to create an alternative to COAH that actually works," he said. "We cannot simply throw COAH out the window without first developing a mechanism which seriously addresses the shortage of affordable housing opportunities in New Jersey communities."

What do you think? Does the governor have the power to abolish agencies? Should COAH be abolished? Add your voice in the comments.

Paul J. DiBartolo May 09, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Actually, that's exactly what the president seems intent on doing and well before Christie came along, so I'm wondering why that doesn't bother you?
ymbdfa May 18, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Patrick, that went so far over Schu's head he couldn’t get it with a fire truck ladder. First you have to explain to Schu what Government is supposed to do before you can expect him to understand why it should not avoid its responsibility. What Schu and the like fail to grasp is its comments made by Governor Christie and others with his elitist mentality from the past who said comment like Christies ever famous "If you can't afford to live in New Jersey then Leave,” is exactly why COAH exists in the first place. I just wonder who is going to work for all these multi-millionaires when the middle class exiles the state.
Chris Welch May 18, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Stan - there is affordable housing in Moorestown. PS - Terrell Ownes doesn't live here anymore.
Richard Magee May 18, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Joe R. In 1963 New Jersey was the Richest state in the Union. I knew and was photographed with Gov. Hughes. His wife was very nice. When he asked me "If I was going to vote for him" I replied "you're a nice guy but I am not voting for you. Gov Christie is doing a good job in restoring N.J. NJ had many bad Governors that led to formation of the NJ Tax Payers Assoc. (if it still exists). Way back Gov Hoffman tried to pass a wage and Income tax and the NJTA forced him to repeal it within two days! They found the second set of Books for NJ. I lived in NJ. NJ had the worst Educational Board. Diploma mill state. The Teachers Union is destroying NJ with falsehoods and powerful Lobbyists in Trenton. I could go on and on. Just do the research. The Mafia presence in NJ is still heavy. ~Rick Magee, FL
Richard Magee May 18, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Sal, mi amici, NJ has had many Bad Governors and I don't feel Christie is one of them. Both parties have contributed to NJ history in that regard. Christie is doing what the People elected him to do. Clean up NJ both Financially and internally. For that he will constantly be maligned by opponents of reformation. Look at the mess the NJ TrnPk has become. Filthy! It used to be a Model for the Country. ~Rick Magee, FL

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