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Monday, November 5, 2007

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.


Miss Karen said...

Honestly, I wouldn't care if he lived in Arkansas if he could manage to come up with a sound strategy for dealing with crime in Trenton. But since that doesn't seem to be happening, challenging his legal standing to do the job in the first place seems like as fine a way as any to light a fire under the relevant people's asses.

Old Mill Hill said...

Certainly if Mr. Santiago were being more effective in dealing with the problems at hand, people would be more willing to overlook his non-compliance with the city's residency requirement.

But how can we expect the person charged with maintaining law and order in be excused from following the law? Seems as though a double standard just doesn't work in this situation (if it ever does).