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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coston's police ordinance fails amid lack of information

An ordinance that would have increased the Trenton Police Department's minimum staffing levels from a range of 270 to 290 up to 310 to 330 failed Tuesday after receiving only two yes votes from City Council members.

Councilmen Jim Coston and Milford Bethea voted yes for the measure, while council members Manny Segura, Paul Pintella, and Annette Lartigue voted no. Council members Cordelia Staton and Gino Melone abstained from the vote.

The council members who did not support the measure said they needed more information about the financial impacts and other consequences of the measure, which administration officials agreed to hash out any with council at the Oct. 23 meeting.

Another requisite for their votes is an appearance by Police Director Joseph Santiago, who has consistently avoided making appearances at council.

But the director has apparently agreed to come before the body on Nov. 27, Chief of Staff Renee Haynes said.

Council members Cordelia Staton and Paul Pintella made remarks to the effect of accusing Mr. Coston of using the measure for political gains by painting council officials as anti-police and anti-public safety, but Mr. Coston said his only motive was to allay the fears of his constituents.

"Public safety should be our top priority," said Mr. Coston. "We can give out all the PILOTs we want, but if folks don't feel safe we will have a beautiful, empty city."

City Council officials not supporting Mr. Coston's ordinance consistently cited a need for information from the administration and the police department to inform a decision about the staffing.

But this is nothing new, as City Council officials have been asking for all of these appearances and all of this information for nearly six months, only to be consistently strung along by administration officials.

Special Counsel Joe Alacqua addressed council near the end of the meeting about a controversial executive session that occurred weeks ago, saying that Mr. Coston indeed erred in providing session tapes to the public.

The counsel also said the council did indeed adopt a resolution prior to the session, despite statements made by City Clerk officials to the contrary.

Mr. Alacqua said council may not have erred in its broad-ranging executive session discussion, among other comments, despite outside legal opinions to the contrary.

Some council members said Mr. Coston acted out of ignorance - being the newest council member - but Ms. Staton said he released the tapes on purpose in what she labeled a calculated move to "make a point".

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