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Friday, May 2, 2008

Palmer loses another battle

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has backed down from earlier threats to fire employees exempted from residency by the state, with attorneys for the mayor informing Judge Linda R. Feinberg on Thursday that they were no longer pursuing the termination of employees for non-residency.

It seems Mayor Palmer and his counsel decided that such a move would inevitably fail in the face of a host of legal arguments aligned against it. It was widely regarded as a ploy to get City Council to revise the city's residency ordinance to save the skin of embattled Police Director Joseph Santiago.

However, the city did indicate that efforts to terminate the employees could be renewed following a favorable decision in the ongoing Santiago residency battle, which is scheduled to resume on June 3 in Appellate Division chambers in Trenton.

Palmer administration officials would like to see the residency ordinance thrown out, because it currently requires the termination of Mr. Santiago from the police director's position due to his non-residency.

Court officials told an attorney for six of the threatened employees that the city had sent a letter to their union representatives officially signaling the end of any intent to fire the city employees, for now.

The city's misguided argument, now rejected, was that the employees faced termination because of a court decision earlier this year that threw out sections of Trenton's residency ordinance that regarded waivers. But the employees were exempted under state statute that still exists to this day, and not under the city's now-defunct waiver provision.

Curiously enough, City Attorney Denise Lyles and Special Counsel Joseph Alacqua both failed to inform the counsel for the employees of the change in the city's intentions.

Perhaps their forgetfulness was meant to make it look like the city voluntarily withdrew the termination threat, as opposed to backing down in the face of a lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking court action to halt any termination proceedings from going forward.

Whatever the case, the decision yesterday is a win for the employees.

It is also a win for all those supporting the continued existence of a strong residency ordinance in Trenton, and represents yet another rejection of an attempt by Mayor Palmer and company to take a hatchet to the law, with an eye to saving Mr. Santiago.

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