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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trenton hands out cash as libraries close for lack of dollars

The City of Trenton, as it prepares to close four branches of the Trenton Free Public Library due to a budget shortfall, will hand out $180,000 in contracts on Thursday to attorneys from outside law firms, including two that defended parties during the Joseph Santiago residency battle.

In total, six separate appropriations paying off lawyers to do work that the city’s own Law Department could handle sit on Thursday’s City Council docket. One calls for the attorney who defended Mr. Santiago during the recent residency court battle, Salvatore Alfano, to receive $20,000.

Another doles out $40,000 to Susan Singer, the attorney who somehow represented the municipal corporation that is the City of Trenton. She was given the illogical and seemingly impossible task of representing a single entity – the City of Trenton – that had one half, City Council, suing the other half, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, and now she will be paid for her work out of the pockets of city taxpayers.

It is unknown whether these various expenditures are being used to pay for services rendered, or are anticipatory contracts. Perhaps they are being awarded in preparation for another looming residency court battle, or for private advice that has been given to Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago for that same purpose.

A battle is coming, as Mayor Palmer is reportedly going to try and skirt the city’s residency law one more time on Monday, by reappointing Mr. Santiago as police director after two courts threw him out of office for living outside of the city and outside of the residency law.

Regardless of what happens next week, the City of Trenton will most likely pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars on Thursday to a handful of lawyers. This appropriation will come at a time when the city has its own perfectly good Law Department, led by not one, but two high-paid lawyers that both fulfill the duties usually handled by a single municipal attorney.

Surely these two individuals – City Attorney Denise Lyles and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua – could handle this work load at a much lower expense than what it costs city residents when the Palmer administration liberally hands out legal contract after legal contract to all sorts of firms, for reasons unknown.

If the city’s own lawyers – as was the case in the previous administration – handled the city’s legal work then the dollars saved could be diverted for use in keeping open city libraries and reducing the number of layoffs currently planned to fix the city’s balance sheets.

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