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Monday, April 7, 2008

Appeal filed for Santiago residency case

A notice of appeal has officially been filed by Trenton officials seeking to overturn a recent court decision that ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago for non-residency.

The notice of appeal - filed Friday - will now head to the Appellate Division, where Judge Stephen Skillman will take a look at Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s case for reversing the earlier decision.

The notice also asks for emergency relief in the form of a stay, which is something that a Mercer County judge refused to grant. That judge said that the Trenton Police Department was well-equipped to deal with the loss of Mr. Santiago, contrary to Mayor Palmer's stance that a stay was needed to safeguard public safety in Trenton.

Legal sources said Monday that there is little to no chance of the decision being overturned, citing the fine legal mind of Judge Skillman and the facts of the case, which paint Mayor Palmer as a man who is willing to selectively enforce city law to spare the employment of one favored employee, while strictly enforcing the law against others.

Even that portrayal of the mayor has been broadened lately, with the revelation that the mayor is threatening to terminate other city employees for residency in an effort to get City Council to amend the residency law to spare Mr. Santiago’s fate and the fate of other employees.

Mayor Palmer said a review of personnel files revealed the administration has granted several other invalid residency waivers to city employees, meaning those employees are subject to immediate termination.

But others involved in the case say that it is likely this move is simply a scare tactic, with the mayor currently prosecuting at least one city employee for residency violations.

Other city employees and a former city attorney have said that no employee has ever received a residency waiver – except for the illegal one granted to Mr. Santiago – since the provision was adopted in the late 1980s.

Mayor Palmer stated himself, in the fall of 2007, that no other employee was ever granted a waiver except for Mr. Santiago, who specifically asked to receive the consideration.

With the appeal officially filed, a new conflict may be emerging between City Council and the mayor. The council will have to be asked whether or not to appropriate city funds to fight the appeal case.

But almost no city employees are ever handed moneys to fight termination-causing cases, so providing such support for Mr. Santiago needs to be carefully considered by City Council, whose members were co-plaintiffs with a group of nine residents – including me – who filed the lawsuit to remove Mr. Santiago.

Even a former City Clerk was forced to fight a legal case against the city with his own funds, and only after the case were those funds awarded to him.

Should Mr. Santiago be treated differently, even after a judge supported the view that he could no longer serve as director?

Probably not.

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