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Saturday, October 4, 2008

We are being robbed

Citizens don't usually react kindly to the news that their government has been stealing from them.

Such news is met with anger, disgust, and a feeling of violation, or any other unwanted feeling that emerges as the result of gaining the knowledge that people trusted with making important decisions and appropriating money for others have broken that trust.

This is what happened Thursday, when it was revealed that state legislators siphoned off millions earmarked for property tax relief for their own pet projects, during testimony given in former state Sen. Wayne Bryant's federal corruption trial.

The same thing is going on in Trenton, in a more indirect and complicated manner. The city government has made it standard policy to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to compensate people in positions that should not and cannot be in receipt of public money.

There was former Police Director Joseph Santiago. He was proven unqualified for the very job he filled for over five years because of the way he, with Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's blessing, openly broke the city's residency ordinance and was ousted by two separate courts for doing so.

Communications Director Irving Bradley, a Santiago associate, continues to be paid city dollars despite a multitude of issues that seem to indicate that the city should cease doing so. Mr. Bradley is not a bona fide resident and is thus subject to removal under the city's residency ordinance, like Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Bradley, a provisional appointment, has now exceeded a state Department of Personnel statutory 12-month limit on such appointments, months after the same department determined that Mr. Bradley was unqualified to take the state test for the position he currently occupies.

There are positions like special counsel and chief of staff, which command hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from the city yet appear to exist in a manner that might be contrary to state law and Trenton's own municipal code.

This is happening at a time when residents are being told that the city is operating in the red, despite multiple tax rate and water rate hikes, and that the result will be reduced services, layoffs, and even the potential closure of valuable resources like the branch libraries open in each ward of Trenton.

The government, including City Council, must move to end these legal inconsistencies to not only restore confidence in municipal government but to save city dollars for use in funding important city services.

In failing to do so, the government risks more of the embarassing litigation that seems to have become the only recourse for residents, when it comes to getting their own municipal government to operate properly.

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