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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Battle over Santiago's law-breaking set to resume

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer could announce as early as Monday that Police Director Joseph Santiago intends to move into Trenton and will therefore be appointed acting police director, after he emphatically stated that he would "never move to Trenton" and was ousted in court for breaking the city's residency ordinance.

A press conference similar to the one held this week at City Hall is set to be convened on Monday, according to a Times of Trenton report that had a confident Mayor Palmer alluding to Mr. Santiago staying on as director.

Monday represents the final day in office for Mr. Santiago, after an appeals court ousted him for breaking residency and gave him 75 days to transition the department's leadership and get out of Trenton.

Being an acting director, as per city ordinance, would mean Mr. Santiago would have a period of 90 days before the City Council, which also sued over his residency violations, would have an opportunity to officially vote to confirm or deny the director’s appointment.

But a majority of City Council members have said they will not confirm the director unless he establishes true residency, which would include moving his entire family down to Trenton as he has said he would never do.

Palmer administration officials may have told people at The Trentonian on Tuesday that "we have the four votes we need", but this administration has repeatedly proven that they are not the most trustworthy bunch. Also, recent history seems to point to a majority of council being aligned against a reappointment of Mr. Santiago, in any capacity.

Any claims made on Monday of Mr. Santiago having established residency are sure to be scrutinized carefully by both City Council and the group of residents – including me – who sued over Mr. Santiago’s blatant breaking of the residency ordinance.

Should Mayor Palmer try and appoint Mr. Santiago – acting or not – without fully vetting the director’s residency status with council members and the public, then he will only be risking precious tax dollars.

That money is sure to be wasted in court, where Mayor Palmer will be a fighting a losing battle to establish that he and his favored associates are above the law, at a time when those city dollars should instead be used to keep the city's branch libraries open, as the library system faces a budget-induced closure threat.

Simply adding the title of “acting” or “interim” does not exempt city employees from establishing true, bona fide domiciles within the city, and failing to do so means immediate termination.

That even goes for Mr. Santiago and any one else enjoying the favor of Mayor Palmer, and in this case, doing so is a court-ordered prerequisite for Mr. Santiago to continue employment past the Sept. 22 deadline.

In fact, it appears the only thing that has changed since Mr. Santiago said he would never move to Trenton is the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to defend Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer in court.

After all this, it is a little hard to accept that both men have found religion and that Mr. Santiago has decided to move his family into Trenton to follow the law. It is more likely that the wayward director is not moving his family into Trenton, and will instead establish false residency similar to the way he lived in the beginning of his tenure in Trenton - in apartments, hotel rooms, and on the couches of his associates.

But without true residency being established another court battle is sure to ensue.

Council and the residents have come too far to simply give up the important fight to get the director and the mayor to follow the law, like all the other city employees, and that includes the dozens fired by Mayor Palmer for breaking the residency law.

This is a democracy, or at least a semblance of one, and not a monarchy where King Doug is the ultimate decider of who follows the law and who does not.


Nicholas Stewart said...

It's sad when an institution like government is taken over such as it has in Trenton. Trenton's administration has stopped being interested in delivering law and order, services, and progress; instead it offers only chaos, minimum-level services, and decline.

We've been failed by Trenton's administration which needs no further explanation, by our City Council that consistently refuses to check our mayor and his management style, by our newspapers which regularly fail to bring the "REAL" issues to the fore, and by ourselves - most importantly, by ourselves for accepting this abuse for so many years.

Shame on everyone, mostly us! I vow no more!

Old Mill Hill said...

Nicholas is correct.

It is a very sorry state of affairs that we find ourselves in.

Our "elected" Mayor has used and abused his power to bully the Council into submitting to his every whim.

Trenton's city hall has become our own Tammany Hall; you do the Boss Man's bidding or you fall from grace and lose the priviliges associated with favored status.

It is sad, yet somehow good that the Santiago debacle, the Library closings and fiscal disaster are cracking the facade.

The electorate of Trenton has gotten the representation it deserves. This is what comes of civic indifference.

Now maybe the tide is turning and we can begun the job of cleaning the foul stench out of 319 East State Street.