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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Palmer: residency law is void, contradicts state law

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s defence against a lawsuit seeking the removal of Police Director Joseph Santiago for non-residency is based in part on statements that severely contradict the way the law has been enforced for decades and Mayor Palmer’s own reasons for installing the Police Director position.

Papers filed in Mercer County Superior Court Wednesday by attorney Angelo Genova said that state laws exempting police personnel from residency requirements protect the Police Director position.

Palmer’s defence against the suit – brought by myself and eight other residents – also claims there are discrepancies between state law and Trenton’s residency requirement and that a law used to fire dozens of employees during Mayor Palmer’s tenure is now void, and has no force, although these claims seem to be tenuous interpretations of Section 2-95 of Trenton City Code.

The laws referred to by Mr. Genova and an attorney representing Mr. Santiago actually apply to rank-and-file employees and not director positions, which are clearly accounted for elsewhere in both the state wording and Trenton’s residency law, according to legal sources.

The defence laid out by Mayor Palmer’s counsel seems to fly in the face of the policy of a mayor who actively pushed for creating a director-led Police Department instead of one headed by a chief because it would allow more accountability and also empower the mayor to make sure the leader of the Police Department was a city resident.

The statements portraying the residency law as a violation of state regulations is even more tenuous, because it would mean that a law that has been on the books for over 40 years was never challenged by anyone with the slightest knowledge of legal matters, including the counsel for any of the numerous employees fired by the City of Trenton for residency violations.

The other important implication of Mayor Palmer's defence is that if it were upheld in Mercer County Superior Court it would mean that all city employees would be exempt from the suddenly voided residency law, likely resulting in the mass exodus of 2,000 middle-class wage earners out of the city.

In a flurry of other papers filed in court Wednesday, Mr. Santiago’s lawyers said the director never stated he would refuse to move his family to Trenton if forced to do so, and an attorney claiming to represent the City of Trenton – which includes City Council – moved to have the case dismissed, despite actions to the contrary by David F. Corrigan, who represents City Council.

Mr. Corrigan’s papers have the City Council asking a judge to decree that Mr. Santiago must immediately establish a residence in Trenton, or Mayor Palmer must then do his duty and remove his coveted cabinet member.

City Council also seeks a combination of their complaint with that of the residents', in the interest of saving both time and taxpayer dollars.

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