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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Residency circus at City Council

It may not have been on Tuesday's City Council docket, but around 80 residents showed up at council chambers in City Hall anyway to harp on the city's controversial residency issue and recently ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Much of the same old tired arguments were repeated in Mr. Santiago's defence, ranging from his performance in office, his alleged ability in reducing the number of the city's homicides, and his success in getting the police to "learn how to talk to residents."

The flimsy show of support came after a Superior Court judge gave the director 30 days - or until the close of business on April 24 - to pack his bags and leave town.

That decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by nine city residents, including me, who asked he be removed from office because he failed to maintain a real residence in Trenton, as per city law.

Former Police Department spokesman Peter Page was apparently summoned by Mr. Santiago to speak on behalf of the director. Mr. Page said that the director should be spared, because he brought down police response times.

One Santiago detractor was actually placed in handcuffs in council chambers, after going over her allotted public comment time and refusing to allow security guards to remove her from the podium.

Most of Mr. Santiago's supporters - who have been nowhere to be found, as the issue unfolded over the last six months - apparently came not because of their own feelings on the matter, but rather because of the exhortations of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and supporters of Mr. Santiago.

That reality was evident in discussions with many meeting attendees, who noted that while they came to support Director Santiago, they did not understand the two sides of the issue.

Several of the pastors Mayor Palmer asked to come to the meeting to support Mr. Santiago and ask for City Council to amend the city's residency law were openly asking other audience members about what the issue was all about.

Others proved their ignorance of current events, telling City Council "not to vote to remove the director," and "please don't allow this matter to go to court."

One member continually referred to Councilman Jim Coston as former police official Joe Constance, telling Mr. Coston to stop picking personal fights with the mayor.

Another woman was even seen handing out Target gift cards, rewarding a group of people who showed up at the meeting.

Recent mayoral candidate John Harmon said he supported making Mr. Santiago live in Trenton or removing him from office. He cited the bad standard the city was setting, through selectively enforcing the residency law.

"I'm worried about the example we're setting for the kids," Mr. Harmon said.

One South Ward resident read a 1999 Op/Ed piece by Mayor Palmer supporting residency, and then scolded the city for selective enforcement of the law.

People from the Trenton Resident's Action Coalition - of which I am a member - officially announced their group's formation, and listed a group of issues they would like to see tackled in the future.

Most surround residency, city contracts, and the way the municipal government allows city dollars to flee the borders in the pockets and gas tanks of companies and contractors employing people who do not live in Trenton.

In another portion of the meeting, E-Path Communications received a skeptical response from City Council about a proposed $250,000 appropriation to the company, which has plans for development a citywide wireless internet network.

It is doubtful they will receive the money, according to council members, and E-Path officials said publicly the network would likely never come to fruition without the city moneys being delivered. E-Path and Palmer administration officials originally said the network would cost nothing.

City Council members said they plan on continuing public comment leftover from Tuesday at Thursday's regular City Council meeting.


Cal said...

It seems to me that Doug's 'dog and pony' shows are, unfortunately, going to be remembered as the defining moments of his undistinguished carreer. (Other than remaining in office long enough to take the helm of the US Conference of Mayors)

Chrissy said...

Greg, excellent summary. Thanks for doing a better job (for free) than the two local papers.