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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Amendment vs. appointment

The usual rumor mongers have city Mayor Douglas H. Palmer naming a permanent, civilian police director as early as Tuesday, a little over two weeks after Joseph Santiago resigned the post after two different courts found him in violation of the city's residency law.

This rush to appoint a permanent director stems from Mayor Palmer's fear of letting the Trenton Police Department get back to police work without the political interference that was provided for so long by Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Santiago's activities usually meant good, effective officers being paid large salaries were relegated to midnight shifts, desk jobs, and other positions of relative irrelevance.

Almost immediately after Mr. Santiago's departure, acting director Capt. Fred Reister began making transfers and assignment changes that put some officers back in positions of significance, where their police skills could have actually made a difference on the streets of Trenton.

But Mayor Palmer is apparently fed up with such activities, preferring an appointee who will again rein in the various officers who may have crossed the mayor's path in the past while putting less worthy, but more pliable officers - like Capt. Paul "Sleepy" Messina and the like - in positions of power.

But Mayor Palmer and his administration should understand that such an appointment would publicly demonstrate that the mayor values the ability to politicize his own department higher than having the ability to appoint non-residents to employment positions.

That's because, without having a residency amendment in place at the time of the appointment, Mayor Palmer will surely have to name a city resident to the position. Anyone other than a bona fide city resident would be unlawful in a manner equivalent to Mr. Santiago, and everyone knows what happened with that situation.

But the appointment of a resident as director is also a weakening of the mayor's argument that the city's residency ordinance makes it impossible to appoint the right man for the directorship, and other high-ranking city cabinet positions, because the mayor will have done just that in appointing a city resident qualified for the position.

Sadly, he will also have demonstrated that getting political revenge on the Trenton Police Department is the most important piece of Mayor Palmer's city agenda, at a time when there are other, way more important things that a Trenton mayor should be worried about.

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