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Friday, November 30, 2007

More residency action Tuesday

Police Director Joseph Santiago's fate could be sealed as early as Tuesday, when City Council could officially initiate action meant to force him to follow the law, and move to Trenton, or be removed from his position as supreme arbiter in the Trenton Police Department.

Council need only pass some sort of resolution demanding Mr. Santiago make a commitment to move into the state capital. With any refusal to do so, all the body would need to do is initiate a hearing examining the situation, and have a discussion with the director about his clear and unabashed breaking of the city code.

At the conclusion of that hearing - contrary to the lies spewed from the mouth of Speial Counsel Joseph A. Alacqua - the body would have the ability to remove the director from his position using his non-compliance with the law as cause, by way of a five-member vote affirming the action.

“My hope is that council as a body, that all of us will agree that this ordinance needs to be abided by the director and send him a resolution reminding him of that,” said Councilman Jim Coston in a statement in the Trentonian today.

Councilman Coston did say that it was understood by the body that compliance with the ordinance could take some time, and that if Mr. Santiago was in agreement then the council would not set stringent dates for the director's compliance with the ordinance, as required by all department directors.

Besides Mr. Santiago, some other directors stand to be harmed by any significant residency ruling, most notably Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum, who makes no secret of the secondary status of her Mill Hill home.

Residents living in the neighborhood said Friday that Ms. Feigenbaum is rarely at her home more than twice a week, preferring to live in the upper reaches of the state, near her old position with the Jersey City administration.

New Communications Director Irving Bradley better watch out as well, because statements alleging deposits put down for a unit in the Broad Street Bank building will surely be investigated by the same residents pushing the action against Mr. Santiago currently.

Also noteworthy in the continued residency flap is the constant spin used by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his cronies, who continually say that the flap is fueled by a handful of disgruntled citizens and angry police union members.

As sources said earlier this week, this is not the case, with the entire ordeal spurned by several groups of residents who have wished to initiate the action over the last several years, after taking note of law-breaking by the highest individual in law enforcement in their city.

Police unions may be smiling, but they had no hand in anything going on currently, which was the fruit of communications and some small citizens' meetings.

This has nothing to do with police beef with a civilian director. The issue here, is simply, the LAW.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

City administration: Santiago will remain

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer fired back at a City Council and resident-led attack on the city's controversial Police Director, Joseph Santiago, saying the mayor does have the right to grant a waiver to the director allowing him to live outside of the city, in violation of city law.

"While I support the Constitution, I believe I am well within my legal rights to grant Director Santiago this waiver," said Mayor Palmer in a statement in today's Trentonian.

The mayor also has received the legal support of the city's Law Department, with Special Counsel Joseph Alacqua telling City Council and the press that the council has no ability to challenge or remove a director based upon Mr. Santiago's circumstances.

Both statements fly in the face of the laws that govern municipalities like Trenton, which are governed under the Faulkner Act. The law specifically gives the council the ability to remove municipal personnel for cause, which in this case is the director's residency status.

On top of that, the residency ordinance itself only grants waivers in the case of unfilled positions that would be a detriment to the city if left unfilled, according to the word of the law. Mr. Santiago's position was never unfilled, and the waiver was not granted until several years after his appointment, in clear violation of the law.

Sources say that council is now developing some kind of resolution that will demand Mr. Santiago repair his residency situation in a timely manner, or face removal, through a vote requiring at least five yeas as enumerated within Trenton City Code and the Faulkner Act.

That could come up as early as Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Santiago appears before council

City Council was a three-ring circus Tuesday as Trenton's embattled Police Director, Joseph Santiago, made an appearance before the city's governing body to outline the city's crime-fighting force and its plans for the near future.

Scores of residents, local activists, and the full command staff of the Trenton Police Department were present for the five-hour meeting, which was so extensive the council never got to go over the rest of the meeting's regularly-scheduled agenda.

Following a presentation highlighting what Mr. Santiago said was a consistent drop in crime since his arrival in the capital in 2003, City Council members interviewed the director and voiced their concerns about public safety and the police force.

Councilman Jim Coston brought up many topics of concern, and finished his questioning by asking about the director's continued residency situation, living outside the city in clear violation of city ordinances.

Mr. Coston said the council was beginning to discuss whether they needed to remove the director from his position.

"What one does matters more, speaks louder and with more clarity than what one says. If the Director will not move into Trenton, he should resign. If he won't resign, the Mayor should fire him. If the Mayor won't fire him, Council should utilize its statutory powers and remove him," said Councilman Coston. "To my colleagues, consider this the introduction of that discussion."

Councilman Manny Segura said he was concerned about gangs of youth terrorizing residents throughout the city, and asked what the police force could do to address the youths that gather on the city's streets daily.

"Most people are too scared to even say that 'that crime happened to me'," said Councilman Segura.

Councilman Geno Melone said the director had done a poor job responding to council requests for appearances and information, noting many of the questions and comments surfacing at the meeting could have been vetted at earlier council meetings.

Despite assurances from some council members about bringing more thorough action on the director's residency status, nothing in the form of resolutions or ordinance revisions ever came up at the meeting.

It remains to be seen whether rumors of lawsuits and a court battle over Mr. Santiago's residency, and ultimately his ability to occupy his position, become reality.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Democratic bill would transfer election oversight

Under legislation released from the Assembly's Law and Public Safety Committee last week control of the Department of Elections would be tranferred back to the Department of State , reversing a move under Gov. Christine Todd Whitman that put the department in its current place, under the Department of Law and Public Safety.

Democrats heralded the bill as one bringing more clarity and transparency to elections, through moving the regulation and enforcement of election rules away from the department that also administers state elections.

They say it should bring more untainted oversight to the state's electoral process.

"This is a common sense move that is long overdue," said Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, D-Essex, who sponsored the bill. "It will allow us to reestablish a seperation of powers that should exist between the administrators of elections and people responsible for oversight of elections."

Under the legislation the Secretary of State would replace the Attorney General as New Jersey's chief designated electoral official. The Department of State would also become responsible for all personnel, budget, and fiscal matters for the Division of Elections.

It will be up to Assembly leadership now for a decision on when to hold a floor vote for the potential passage of the bill.

Friday, November 23, 2007

New gun trafficking bill gathers momentum

A New Jersey assemblyman has moved to take care of a glaring hole in New Jersey's defences against firearm-fueled street crime, by writing legislation that makes unlawful sales and transfers illegal.

The legislation's sponsor, Neal M. Cohen, D-Union, said it was necessary to put a law specifically tackling illegal gun trafficking, because New Jersey's current laws have no specific rules against the practice, using other state law to prosecute offenders instead.

"A disproportionate number of gun-related crimes in New Jersey are committed with weapons purchased outside the state, yet we have no law on the books specifically against gun trafficking," said Mr. Cohen, whose bill was released from committee on Nov. 19. "That needs to change before more lives are needlessly lost."

Current state laws prosecute offenders through the state's licensing and permitting statutes, which hit offenders with punishments that include up $10,000 in penalties and a maximum of 18 months in jail.

The new law would hit any person who knowingly transports, ships or otherwise brings forearms into New Jersey with the intent to illegally sell or give them to another individual with up to $150,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.

The new law would help with the war on violent crime, but it would not stop gang members and criminals from making a short trip over the Delaware River to Pennsylvania, which continues to maintain gun laws that are extremely lax, compared with New Jersey.

Until state officials press our neighboring states for more restrictions on weapons sales, the stream of guns will continue, and so will the violence plaguing New Jersey's urban areas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wi-Fi plan moves ahead in council

City Council Tuesday moved to approve the contract of a Florida firm that says it can do for Trenton what numerous other Internet providers have failed to do successfully for other cities: construct a successful citywide wireless fidelity network.

Past renditions of E-Path Communications Inc.'s plan seemed to suggest the Wi-Fi network would be free for use by city residents, but commentary in council Tuesday suggested Internet access would be free for the city government to use while residents and businesses would be charged, albeit a cheaper rate than DSL or cable Internet access.

The firm would place what sound like heavy-duty wireless routers at locations throughout 7.7-square mile Trenton, at enough density to blanket the town in a complete Wi-Fi shroud. The construction of the network would be free, with the company recouping its costs through charging for services in Trenton.

While building a wireless Internet network that could potentially provide cheaper Internet services throughout town sounds like a great idea, it has been questioned whether such a network is even feasible.

Larger communications firms would probably be able to perform the same service at a lower overhead cost, but they have not yet successfully built a citywide wireless network, even in cities much larger and more affluent than Trenton.

So why haven't they?

Also, in a city where nearly one in four residents live at or below the poverty level, it seems that there may be other more pressing needs for the populace than widespread cheap Internet access.

Then again, it does sound like a great idea, but Trenton will see just how this ends up working out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Santiago's ouster

One week from tomorrow marks the Trenton City Council meeting where the controversial police director, Joseph Santiago, will make an appearance before Trenton's governing body.

This will be special indeed, after Mr. Santiago exhibited arrogance while skipping out on numerous council requests for an appearance over the last six months, during the debate over ordinances that would increase the police department's minimum staffing levels.

Since that debate was seemingly squelched by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's announcement of intentions to hire 50 more officers over the next two years - despite the fact that numerous classes of officers will be retiring in the intervening time - controversy has reared its ugly head again for the embattled director.

Numerous citizens have called for his ouster due to violations stemming from the fact that the director does not have a primary residence within Trenton, in pure, unhidden violation of employment statutes that require primary residence within city limits.

Trenton Makes agrees.

Mayor Palmer and Business Administrator Feigenbaum - who also flouts the city's residency laws - maintain that Mr. Santiago has some sort of phantom waiver that puts him above the law, even though no such measure is enumerated within Trenton City Code.

More embarrassment came in the form of media reports detailing the downgrading of crimes and department secrecy over the real crime situation in Trenton, which resulted in a press conference denying the warping of crime reports and promises to keep a map of all the crime in Trenton available on a weekly basis on the city's Web site.

A map was put up once three weeks ago, and has not been updated since.

This obvious arrogance regarding the city's laws and residents means that City Council has but one recourse next week: demand that Mr. Santiago moves back into the city within a week, or immediately remove him from office through a vote. Five votes would suffice, utilizing the council's legal ability to remove department heads through a vote.

The word of the law and the need for city employees to live within Trenton and have a stake in the city they serve mean that Mr. Santiago is in willful violation of the law, and cannot hide behind the truly mythical powers of Mayor Palmer and his minions to bend the very word of the law.

The time has come for the director to go.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trenton improves in national crime report

The same week that saw Trenton's 24th and 25th homicides for the year of 2007 featured the release of the annual CQ Press Annual Safest/Most Dangerous Cities report, in which Trenton was labeled the most improved city.

Its Quitno crime number dropped over 80 points, which was the greatest drop in ranking factors of any city within the report, according to the creators of the survey. Trenton also dropped from number four to number seven in its ranking category of most dangerous cities with 75,000 to 99,000 residents.

Officials from the Douglas H. Palmer administration and the police department's appointed leadership have not yet commented on the report's findings, which have been consistently attacked in the past and labelled as a misuse of crime data that did more harm than good to cities contained in the report.

But it will be interesting to see if a city government that continually contradicts itself and the law will contradict past commentary on the reports, now that there seems to be some positive news about Trenton.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors - of which Mayor Palmer is president - has also maintained a negative stance on the reports, for the same reasons mentioned above, so it would probably be hard for Mayor Palmer to reverse his stance and go directly against the national organization.

Whatever happens and whatever is said, remember the report does use a system that does not take into account many factors that distinguish cities from each other, and it is based upon the FBI's Uniform Crime Report data put together by the Trenton Police Department.

This is the same data at the same department whose compilation methods were called into question this month by local media outlets that speculated that crimes were being downgraded and the public was being kept in the dark about the city's crime situation.

So, take it with a grain of salt.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Low voter turnout: troublesome

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston reported in his blog this week that the final voting numbers from the election painted a bleak picture of democracy in the capital of New Jersey.

Out of roughly 30,000 voters, only about 7500 actually took 15 minutes out of their day to walk down to a polling place and cast a vote, in an election that probably will have more effect on life here than the more flashy, national elections.

State senators and assemblyman may not get the headlines like U.S. representatives, senators, and presidents, but they make a lot of the decisions that affect Trentonians on an everyday basis.

Many of these incumbents have been in office for a considerable amount of time and have not created solutions to New Jersey's budget woes, the high cost of living, and property taxes.

All those things hit the people of Trenton the hardest, and those people were probably too busy dealing with social and economic problems to show up at the polls.

On the other hand, there is one positive consequence of last week's voter apathy.

Because petition signature numbers for citizen initiatives and protests of city ordinances are based on the number of voters casting ballots in the last general election, residents who want to challenge the city government can now do so more easily.

Protests require 15 percent, in this case 1125 signatures, and initiatives 10 percent, or 750 signatures. But that is truly the only positive.

As Mr. Coston said, democracy seems to be shrinking in Trenton. And we're all poorer for it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sen. Turner proposes gun-marking bill

State Senator Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, has proposed new legislation that would require New Jersey gun manufacturers to brand weapons produced here in such a way that each bullet fired would have distinct markings, which could aid law enforcement officials investigating gun crime.

The bill would go into effect 13 months after passage, pending attorney general review, and manufacturers would then be required to use a laser to "microstamp" the firing pins of each weapon, making the gun's serial number and sale information that much easier to determine during criminal investigations.

"Every shot fired would be instantly traceable to the gun from which it was fired," said Sen. Turner in a statement in today's Times. "Hopefully gangbangers will think twice before pulling the trigger, but if not, then we have another tool to help police track down the gun used and the shooter."

While the new law would help in tracking guns manufactured in New Jersey, it would do little for weapons from out of state, which tend to make up nearly 40 percent of those used in crime in counties near the Pennsylvania border, like Sen. Turner's Mercer County.

Pennsylvania's gun laws are much more lenient than those of the Garden State, and for violent criminals in cities like Trenton and Camden, Pennsylvania handguns are little more than a hop, skip, and jump away.

Until Pennsylvania enacts stricter gun control laws New Jersey will be hard-pressed to see a reduction in the violent crime involving firearms that is plaguing our urban areas.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Corzine touts road financing in AC

Gov. Jon S. Corzine today delivered his address to League of Municipalities delegates gathered in Atlantic City, and stressed a need to overhaul the state's finances to address rampant debt through his asset monetization program.

The program would turn over some of the state's most valuable assets - its massive toll highways - over to some sort of management entity that would take over the operations of the roads and use their revenue to cut the state's $32 billion debt in half, according to Gov. Corzine, who said that was about $3,700 in debt for each man, woman, and child in the state.

"As you have probably heard or read, the plan will involve leveraging the untapped value in the state's toll roads in order to dramatically pay down debt and create a permanent funding source for state's Transportation Trust Fund," Gov. Corzine said.

Opponents have scoffed at the idea, and compared the plan to situations in other states where private entities took over the roads and doubled and trebled tolls, but Gov. Corzine said this would not be done with the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike.

"There will be no sale of any roads, period," said Gov. Corzine. "And there will be no lease to a private bidder or foreign owner."

Opponents have said they believe the relief of $15 billion in state debt would require a 150 percent increase in highway tolls, although the specifics of the plan have not yet been released.

Gov. Corzine said the defeat of the stem cell research ballot question in last week's election was a way for the New Jersey voters to make a point about the condition of the state's finances, and the need for something to turn the situation around.

Also stressed during the speech was a need for a comprehensive revamping of the state's school funding formula, which has been in a frozen hiatus since 2002, after budget problems resulted in an aid freeze.

That means that as districts see an increase in pupils, their per-pupil aid goes down, and some of the worst property taxes in the nation go up.

Gov. Corzine said the New Jersey Department of Education will present a new formula to the legislature in the coming weeks, which could be the light at the end of the tunnel for the school funding-property tax nightmare.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Assembly proposal would kill RCAs

New Jersey legislators unveiled comprehensive policy on affordable housing today that could bring an end to the practice of cities like Trenton accepting the affordable housing obligations of its rich neighbors in exchange for cash.

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, D-Camden, and Ewing's own Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, are two of the sponsors of the policy, which came in the form of a 12-point plan addressing the complex and controversial issue of affordable housing in New Jersey.

The plan would completely eliminate Regional Contribution Agreements, which were the vehicle of the low-income families-for-cash gravy train that critics say has damaged the social fabric of New Jersey's urban areas.

"By allowing a municipality to cut its affordable-housing obligation in half, RCAs make it challenging and sometimes impossible for working New Jerseyans with modest incomes to live in the suburban communities where they work," said Speaker Roberts in a statement Tuesday. "RCAs also lead to concentrated poverty."

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer of Trenton and other urban mayors have consistently accepted the money until recently, using them to make up funding gaps in the cash-strapped budgets of their cities.

Trenton's lagging economy and socio-economic problems have been linked to the concentration of poverty that has developed in some sections of the city, which has been augmented through Mayor Palmer's use of RCAs.

The plan would also require state-assisted development projects to be composed of at least 20 percent affordable units, and increase the maximum income for people eligible for affordable housing.

To make up the gap in urban budgets created by the elimination of RCAs, the proposals call for the New Jersey government to make up the funding out of its own coffers and work with cities to address future budget issues.

Santiago to speak in AC

Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago - he of the Stirling, New Jersey address - will be speaking to those attending the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City this week in a seminar about police departments headed by a chief of police versus a civilian director, like Mr. Santiago.

Funny how Mr. Santiago will probably espouse what he sees as the benefits of the system he currently heads, less than a week after Trentonian Editor Paul Mickle highlighted what has happened to a police department since it was injected with an unhealthy dose of politics.

It would be fairly easy to guess what the director will say are the benefits of appointed directors versus risen-through-the-ranks chiefs, but it is even easier to surmise what will not be said during that Atlantic City seminar.

Mr. Santiago won't describe how critics of the director and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer are discredited, relegated to midnight shifts, or driven out of the department and suspended in the appointed director system.

He also won't say that officers will be relegated to what amounts to political campaign work at press conferences designed to dispel crime reporting problems brought up in the Trenton media, like Mr. Mickle pointed out in his article last week.

And Mr. Santiago almost certainly won't say that switching to civilian directors through referendum is the best way for an angry mayor to get revenge on and reign in a police force that challenged that mayor during elections, heckled him during contract negotiations, and existed as one of the major bastions of resistance in the city.

And finally, he MOST certainly will not say that one of the benefits of being an appointed director is that he gets to bend the laws regarding director's residency inside the city.

All of that comes despite the fact that one of the major complaints about the chief system and the old police department was that it was led by white suburban men who did not actually live in Trenton and did not actually care about Trenton. But right now, Mr. Santiago does not live in Trenton, in clear violation of the law.

So this week, hopefully someone down in AC will tell the audience during Mr. Santiago's speaking engagement that the director system - as it currently works here in Trenton - is a hypocritical construction instituted for simple political gain and not, as it should have been, for the benefit of Trenton residents.

And all we have to show for it is a divided, politicized police force.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Better late then never

Following their Nov. 7 press conference the Trenton Police Department has been providing a detailed crime map of the city for residents on the city's officials Web site.

It does paint a more thorough picture than what has been released previously, but it remains to be seen how quickly these more timely releases will help in addressing any ill will generated by the department's past practices.

According to some city activists heavily involved with the police in their communities, the new relase of the maps and detailed crime information is a practice that has never happened consistently in the past, despite comments to the contrary by police officials last week. It should have been implemented long ago, for the sake of relations between the the police and the city government and the residents.

Police officials at the conference said they have always made these maps readily available to residents at Citizen's Police Advisory Committees, in an attempt to rebuke allegations of secrecy and withholding of information claimed by Trentonian reporter Jack Knarr last week.

Mr. Knarr's anonymous police sources spoke of the downgrading of crimes and other nefarious practices the department has been using to warp the the picture of Trenton's public safety issues, but the department last week said this is not a standard practice at the department.

The downgrading of crime may not be occurring as often as Mr. Knarr's article would have it seem, but it is widely reported by police sources that this does happen occasionally, and the timely release of all crime data by Trenton police would have been the best defence against the Knarr column.

People in Trenton know what is going on around them. To say it is not happening, and to paint a rosey picture and tell us that "our crime is similar to that of Secaucus and Morristown" does nothing but breed doubt and paranoia among residents.

And those mental states are highly fertile for dissent and dissatisfaction that will continue to boil and bubble until they explode, probably around the next election.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Messina transferred following harassment gaffe

Trenton Police Capt. Paul "Sleepy" Messina has been transferred to the city's Police Academy, following numerous missteps and mishaps that culminated in sexual harassment charges from another Trenton officer.

Police sources Wednesday said Capt. Messina told a group officers earlier in the day about his pending transfer.

They also said there had been pressure on the police force to do something about the captain, who had been a source of constant embarrassment to police and the city as a whole.

Local media and a Web site documented some of Capt. Messina's finer moments, like when he was caught sleeping on the job at police headquarters, more than once.

He also ordered an expensive investigation after he found a Trentonian with pictures of him sleeping place on his police car's windshield.

The sexual harassment probe started after the captain made sexist remarks about the provision of a laptop to a female detective, which Capt. Messina said had something to do with her female anatomy. The comments got back to the detective, who filed with internal affairs.

Hopefully the recruits at the academy will survive working under Capt. Messina, but the regular police force will obviously be better off without him.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Welcome to the machine

The myth of a residency waiver granted by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer to Police Director Joseph Santiago was challenged Wednesday by former City Attorney George Dougherty, who said such a waiver could never have been granted in the circumstances surrounding Mr. Santiago's residency during his tenure as head of the Trenton Police Department since 2003.

Mayor Palmer and the director this week maintained it is well within the mayor's powers to provide such a waiver - for what has been called "personal" reasons - but Mr. Dougherty said this is not the case.

He said the ordinance only provides for waivers in the case of an unfilled position that cannot be filled by candidates complying to the residency requirement.

Acting Director Abe Hemsey was in full control of the position at the time of Mr. Santiago's appointment, so the position was filled and any residency waiver simply could not apply, Mr. Dougherty said this week.

The residency stipulation also requires the position must be one, which if left unfilled, could harm the City of Trenton and public safety.

Mr. Dougherty said Wednesday that he has been approached by members of the public interested in challenging the situation, and he would represent them pro bono.

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday said that if this situation makes it to court and a judge could vacate the director's seat - the trend in previos, similar cases - look for Mayor Palmer's minions on City Council to prepare to amend the ordinance to provide stronger waiver powers to the mayor.

Should something like this occur, Trenton residents need to be prepared to use their recently-reinforced ability to challenge city ordinances through referendum, to prevent the law from being changed to allow for the special, unnamed circumstances of a man who has done irreparable harm to the Trenton Police Department and the rest of the city.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mayor cites phantom waiver as excuse for law-breaking

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer responded Tuesday to last week's complaint by a former mayoral candidate about the non-compliance of Police Director Joseph Santiago, saying the Police Director was granted some sort of "waiver" that is not enumerated anywhere within the Code of the City of Trenton.

"We feel we are in our right to grant a waiver in a personal situation. Our legal department stands by this," said Palmer in the Times Tuesday.

Since this waiver is not mentioned anywhere in the law with regards to a personal situation - contradictory to what was reported in the Times - this really means that Mayor Palmer truly feels that he and the people he supports are above the law.

Numerous employees in the past were removed from office and discharged, as the ordinance says for violations, but it appears Mr. Santiago is sufficiently godlike to not be held to the laws that govern other Trenton employees and residents.

Curiously Mayor Palmer said the waiver was temporary, even though Mr. Santiago has never truly lived in a bona fide domicile as called for by the ordinance. Bona fide domicile means primary residence, where one's family lives and spends the bulk of their time.

Despite a slew of addresses cited as places of residence in Trenton in the past, Mr. Santiago has made it no secret that he has always lived in Stirling NJ. So any labeling of the situation as "temporary" comes completely without merit.

All of this means simply means Mayor Palmer and his administration continue to think they are completely above the law, so at some point the law will have to be brought up to meet them.

Monday, November 5, 2007

This election, and the next

Tuesday's election promises to be an interesting one that features a highly contested mayoral race in Trenton's neighbor, Hamilton, and an interesting State Assembly and Senate race in the district next to the 15th of Trenton.

But this is also a time for Trentonians to reflect on the city election that is about two and a half years away, which means NOW is the time for those who want it to begin at least thinking of ways to bring about change in Trenton.

The City Council - let alone the mayor's office - needs some obvious revisions that will make it a more formidable and independent body than the current composition allows.

With several members owing positions to the mayor because of previous hefty financial campaign assistance, it seems the body lost a lot of its ability to think and then vote independently of the administration's stance on certain issues.

Just look at last week's meeting, where council persons reversed an earlier vote at the urging of administration officials who needed an 11th hour resolution to pass to provide funding to an outside law firm to do city work.

That situation painted a perfect picture of how the governing body has acted for quite some time - showing occasional independent thinking and a willingness to go against the mayor's officials, only to reverse their position at the last minute in the interest of "playing" nice.

With the potential for several council members to run for the mayor's position, it is the perfect time to groom independent candidates who will better represent Trentonians than the current group, and to also build a foundation for the 2010 campaign.

An independent City Council could counteract any Palmerite clowns that could end up running the executive branch of the city.

There is a lot at stake for Trenton in what could be the beginning of the post-Palmer era, but it can't be put to waste because of more council members acting like sheep.

A pattern of removal

Former mayoral candidate Frank Weeden’s public challenge last week of Police Director Joseph Santiago’s residency status is the latest development in the saga of Mr. Santiago’s flagrant, officially-supported violation of the laws of the City of Trenton.

If past case law in residency violations by municipal employees is indicative of the treatment Mr. Santiago could get in court, then the City of Trenton could be searching for a new Police Director in coming months.

In two previous cases, a pattern is established where the courts have responded to genuine complaints about a municipal employee’s non-compliance with residency ordinances by simply removing them from their office, declaring their seat vacant.

In Lohsen vs. Borough of Keansburg in 1950, a New Jersey court ruled that a municipal manager — a high-ranking management position similar to Police Director — immediately disqualified himself when he took up residence outside of the borough limits.

The municipal manager was retroactively removed from his office to the time he took up residence outside Keansburg.

In another case in 1944, the courts ruled that despite a man’s numerous contributions to his community and the ownership of a business within Sea Bright, the fact that he did not live there disqualified him from holding a seat on the municipality’s governing body.

The court leveled a judgment of ouster against the councilman, vacating his seat.

Just as any regular employer establishes qualifications that must be met for a prospective employee to be hired, the City of Trenton requires most employees and department directors — like Mr. Santiago — to have a bona fide residence within the city.

This does not mean you own a house but do not live in it. This means this is your primary residence, where your dependents live and you spend the bulk of your time.

If you don’t have a bona fide residence within the 7.7 square miles of Trenton, then you simply cannot fulfill one of the qualifications for the position. So you are removed from an office, because you couldn’t have occupied the position in the first place, according to the courts.

City officials like Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum have given various excuses for Mr. Santiago’s ability to literally live outside the law, but there are no such provisions within the Code of the City of Trenton.

Looks like time could be running out for the director.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Trenton political BBQ

Trenton hosted a gathering of 15th Distrist candidates, supporters, and revelers at a political BBQ Sunday at a South Trenton jewel, the South River Walk Park.

Assembly candidates Bonnie Watson Coleman and Reed Gusciora were there, along with Senate candidate Shirley Turner and County Executive incumbent Brian Hughes. Food was served and there was music, along with some activities for the candidates' younger supporters.

Around 3:30 p.m., there were about 70 people at the park, enjoying food, speaking with candidates and taking young children to ride on a pony that had been paid for with campaign funds.

The event highlighted the beautiful South River Walk Park, which is a nicely-kept piece of property featuring a gazebo, some walking paths, benches and a great view of the Delaware River.

Some lamented the park for how it reduced views of the river for Lamberton Street residents, not to mention the costly and ill-conceived Route 29 Tunnel on which the park sits.

But, it is truly one of Trenton's jewels.

The park itself is beautiful, and judging by the homes lining that part of Lamberton Street it seems like the residents living there really take pride in their homes. They are of the same sturdy brick construction that puts Trenton's housing stock a few steps above the rest of Mercer County's municipalities.

Trenton's politicians and officials were notably absent from the later stages of the gathering, and people arriving earlier to the event told the Trenton Makes correspondent that they believed council officials and people from the Palmer administration had not made an appearance at the event.

Nothing shows pride in your city to your state representatives like holding an event in a city without having the city's elected - and most likely Democratic officials - show up.

Oh well. Sunday's event was still a good one for the health of the City of Trenton.

Friday, November 2, 2007

No representation at 319 E. State

City Council last night reversed an earlier vote at the urging of administration officials, resurrecting a resolution that had been voted down 5 to 2 and passing it soon after the measure failed.

The resolution originally would have awarded $90,000 to a law firm performing work for the City of Trenton, whose lawyers were due in court Friday on city business. A failed resolution would have removed the funding and prevented the firm from doing its work.

Council voted down the measure out of concern for the large amount of the moneys and the fact that the city does have a Law Department filled with lawyers who seemingly could handle the legal work, according to Councilman Jim Coston.

But they reversed their decision at the urging of Chief of Staff Renee Haynes, passing the measure 5 to 2 after the size of the expenditure was amended.

Mr. Coston expressed concern Friday about how the administration seems to think that any measure they bring before the council is guaranteed to pass, at least with some effort or urging. Trenton residents should be concerned as well.

The City Council is a body of higher representation than the executive arm of the government, with seven elected officials, versus one elected man and a plethora of hired staff. These seven men and women should be looking out for our interests, and not the interests of Palmer staff who need funding to get their work done.

The Law Department handled almost all of the legal work in Trenton in-house during the administrations prior to Mayor Palmer, when the city had a larger population and a larger economy.

So when the administration constantly calls for resolutions paying money to exotic law firms from outside New Jersey, Trenton needs a council who questions whether there is a real need for these appropriations, and if there are other motives in play.

These last-minute expenditures from the administration are also symptomatic of the creeping disrespect of council that characterizes the modus operandi of Palmer officials.

When they bring these measures to the table with no time for council members to make an informed decision - with the interests of residents in mind - it shows the Palmer administration has no respect for the work council is supposed to be doing, and the way they should be doing it.

The only way this will ever stop is if council starts challenging these disrespectful tendencies on the part of the Palmer crowd.

Then council can begin to act as a co-equal branch to the mayor.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Take the reigns

City Council officials this week received a report from the developer that wants to bring one of the largest green mixed-use developments in the nation to a downtown city block across from the Broad Street Bank building.

But once again, there has been an impasse between the developer and officials from the Douglas H. Palmer administration, just like the Broad Street Bank and other city redevelopment projects.

Councilman Jim Coston, thinking aloud on his blog, said that City Council could not take a larger role in negotiating with developers for this downtown site, and other areas in need of redevelopment in town, because the mayor and his executive branch cronies are the ones empowered to negotiate with developers

But this is not exactly true.

If the City Council truly became unhappy with the continued delays and ineptitude of city development officials, they could use New Jersey's redevelopment statutes to designate themselves the redevelopment entity for a project, like Full Spectrum.

Doing so would allow them to negotiate with developers, hire consultants, and do all of the heavy lifting that people like Dennis Gonzalez and others responsible for economic development projects in Trenton have failed to do successfully.

This is just a little food for thought for our present council, and any aspiring council candidates who want to make a bigger dent in the city's development future.

The law says you can do just as much as the other, supposedly equal executive branch can do.