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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Crisis in Trenton government

Trenton is facing a crisis in leadership.

The greatest threat to this city's advancement and revitalization is the man sitting at the top, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who hopes to subvert city law and completely dominate the workings of Trenton, as evidenced by what is going on with the city's libraries, the Police Director Joseph Santiago situation, and beyond.

Of almost equal importance are City Council members who seem hell-bent on forgetting their statutory duties. Even as they have suddenly begun doing the right thing, many on the body allow themselves to be poisoned by the words of administration officials who are so obviously spinning the truth, bending information, or outright lying to advance the interests of Mayor Palmer.

Sometimes council members seem to be ignorant of their abilities and even more ignorant of their responsibilities in checking the power of the administration and investigating city practices.

Right now, there is a city communications director who has been found to not only be unqualified for his position, but also appears to be blatantly breaking the city's residency ordinance. Yet City Council has done nothing about this, with one member apparently having given the excuse that the state Department of Personnel handles such issues.

This group has still not pushed through a vehicle ordinance restricting the use of city vehicles in a government whose employees have frequently been caught with municipal cars, far outside of the city with no legitimate excuse.

And now, with their inability to handle even these major issues, they will be faced with the conclusion of an issue that will most likely determine how people think of them for years to come: Police Director Joseph Santiago's residency battle.

Council is fighting a mayor who fired dozens and dozens of city employees for breaking residency, yet allowed Mr. Santiago to openly flout the same law. When that arrangement was publicly questioned, Mayor Palmer said that he had the power to "waive" city law, and planned to use that mythical, sovereign ability to save Mr. Santiago.

When a lawsuit was filed by city residents, which City Council eventually joined, two separate courts weighed in and ruled contrary to Mayor Palmer's untenable position, and now, $136,000 later, Mr. Santiago has been ousted and is set to leave office Monday afternoon.

But instead of finding a successor and allowing the city to move beyond this sorted affair, Mayor Palmer has allegedly hatched a plot to allow Mr. Santiago to stay on.

This plot will no doubt be met with strong resistance from many in the city, including me, and will end up again in court to be argued by expensive lawyers and decided by a judge.

Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer will end up losing this battle, but the real losers will be the men and women of Trenton, who will be deprived of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the presence of a thoughtful, caring leader who would realize that fighting the Santiago fight is a wasteful and idiotic affair.

City Council must step in and stop the bleeding.

They need to head off any lingering Santiago residency action in an aggressive manner, blocking any abuses of city ordinances by Mayor Palmer and stopping the payment of precious city dollars for Mr. Santiago's legal defense.

Council must enact a vehicle ordinance now, because residency violators using city vehicles might think twice about making long commutes to their illegal residences if the trip is made in their own car, with their own gas, rather than gas bought with the money of Trenton residents.

The same council must immediately move on Communications Director Irving Bradley.

Some on council have said that they cannot fire him, but there are other avenues open to this body, the supreme legislative organ of the city government.

Council could opt to legislate.

They could revise city ordinances dealing with the communications director to eliminate the position - as Mayor Palmer has done with enemies in the past - or they could fire other administration officials for allowing the residency violator and unqualified employee to maintain employment and continue receiving a city salary.

They owe that to the taxpayers, who should be sick of paying unqualified people for work they should not be doing in the city government.

City Council needs to do all these things, because Mayor Palmer has proven - with Santiago, the libraries, and the water utility, to name a few - that he simply does not care about doing what's right for residents, or even following the most basic and logical of city laws.

The best tool to deal with such a mayor is an effective, intelligent City Council, and Trenton needs such a body immediately.

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