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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Residency is about the law, and not the person

Politicians of dubious value don’t usually last very long in the public arena without having a knack for implementing keenly developed strategies when it comes to pushing for a particular initiative, policy, or even a personal whim.

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is providing a perfect example of such skills right now, through the public relations campaign being orchestrated around the employment of Police Director Irving Bradley.

Mr. Bradley’s predecessor, Joseph Santiago, was ousted for blatantly violating the city’s residency ordinance with the strong support of Mayor Palmer. A lawsuit, filed by citizens including me, showed the weakness of such a position when two different courts ruled that Mayor Palmer did not have king-like abilities to waive employment requirements for employees, and that Mr. Santiago had to go.

Following that spectacular defeat, Mayor Palmer’s political skills are fully on display. First, a few weeks ago he convinced a majority of formerly combative City Council members to confirm Mr. Bradley, despite lingering questions over the director’s residency and that body’s formerly strong stance on residency.

After a majority of council members demonstrated that their previous position on residency was ephemeral in nature, a lawsuit that everyone knew was coming was immediately filed over the new director’s residency, which is questionable at best, given that his immediate family lives 40 miles outside the city.

With the lawsuit now hanging over Mr. Bradley and Mayor Palmer, the mayor is skillfully suppressing his hatred of city police officers and pushing Mr. Bradley to be everything that Mr. Santiago was not: a good, attentive, and responsive leader, a leader respectful of the police rank-and-file, and a leader not constantly out to put police officers in their place.

Mayor Palmer is trying to make Mr. Bradley look like one of the greatest police leaders the city has ever had, probably to make the people trying to oust the director look misguided and driven by interests other than the betterment of the city.

He is trying to turn the people who disliked Mr. Santiago, because of his leadership style and policing decisions, against the citizens seeking Mr. Bradley’s ouster. Those people should know, however, that the minute the lawsuit or any other kind of threat dissipates Mayor Palmer will likely begin making the lives of Trenton police officers difficult once again.

For people like me, solace comes from the fact that supporting residency has always been about the law and not personal attributes or relationships. Regardless of how poorly Mr. Santiago ran the department, and how well Mr. Bradley could now run the department, our position remains the same.

We don't particularly care about who is the director of police, as long as they're a resident. What we do want is a mayor who follows the laws, and enforces the laws equally, regardless of an employee’s stature or relationship with the mayor.

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