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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Residents sue city over residency flap

A group of citizens - including myself - filed suit in Mercer County Superior Court today after becoming outraged over the arrogant bending and breaking of the law at the hands of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer in the case of the non-residency of Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Citing public statements made by Mayor Palmer, administration officials, and Director Santiago himself, the suit seeks an immediate vacating of the directorship, based upon state law that calls for the removal from office of government officials who fail to meet residency laws dictated for municipal positions.

With a complaint about the director’s non-residency in Trenton having been logged two months ago — without action by administration officials or City Council — the residents moved to put the matter before a judge so a decision could be made, in this example of unabashed violation of city law.

“As attorney for the individual plaintiffs, the best description of their motives and their purpose is summed up in the remedy they have asked for in the complaint: A declaration that the Mayor is neither above the law, detached from the law, or the creator of the law,” said the attorney for the plaintiffs, George Dougherty. “They sue because the Mayor claims to have a power to suspend the law at will.”

Central to the suit is not that Mr. Santiago does not live in Trenton — which the director does not deny — but that nowhere in the city’s residency ordinance is there room for waivers granted after the initial employment of the employee.

The only waiver language within the law lays out a process for employment in cases where no suitable candidates can be found who live in Trenton, which is different from Mr. Santiago’s case.

The director had already lived in various apartments and hotel rooms and feigned compliance with the residency law, living in places that never actually met the definition of a bona fide domicile within the city set forth in the law.

Only in 2006, was a waiver publicly announced — after nearly three years of public service — and not during the initial employment of Mr. Santiago.

In the fall Mr. Santiago said he would never move to Trenton, citing dedication to his family, and Mayor Palmer soon granted an illegal, permanent waiver to the controversial director.

The mayor also threatened prolonged court action and continued flouting of the law should City Council or others move forward with the ouster of Mr. Santiago.

Germane to the argument is that Mayor Palmer has moved to dismiss dozens of city employees over the years for similar residency violations, hiring private investigators to gather evidence on violators and drumming them out of city service with great fanfare.

This inconsistent application of the law was tempered with numerous public statements made by Mayor Palmer affirming his commitment to the residency law and its importance to the viability of the capital city.

The suit seeks an immediate declaration that Mr. Santiago’s position is vacant, and a return of any compensation received by the director from the time of the filing of the suit to his removal from office.


Kevin said...

Greg, In the interest of full disclosure you really should state early on in your article that you are lead plaintiff in this suit. Your post is a good article, but it's slightly disingenuous to talk about "a group of citizens" when you yourself are in the lead.

Greg Forester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Forester said...


I am in the suit...but I would hardly say I was in the lead...

Greg Forester said...

I agree with you that I should probably have included mention of my being a named plaintiff in the suit originally. That was a mistake.

For some reason I do not like mentioning my own name in my posts, because I feel it is sometime redenundant.

This is not an objective news site. It is a subjective and opinionated blog about Trenton.

Regardless of that, I actually wrote that piece up a week or so before the suit was filed, so I wouldn't have to wait until I left work to get something up on the site.

But truthfully, each plaintiff is equally involved in this action. I may have done more footwork in the months and days leading up to it, but everyone is equally involved.

By the way, which Kevin is this?

AnotherPerspective said...

Could we please get a fuller explanation of the argument that the City's residency law is unlawful and unenforceable?

Is the ordinance unlawful as applied to a police director because he is the functional equivalent of a police chief?

Is the ordinance unlawful in toto because it infringes on the constitutional right to travel?

The precise nature of the argument made by Mr. Alfano is very important to our municipal government. If the argument is that the law is completely unconstitutional, then no employee can be required to maintain his/her primary residence in Trenton.

It might be interesting to hear what the City Attorney or Special Counsel Alaqua (Is he really a cousin of the Mayor's wife?) think about these arguments.