Hostilities escalate in Santiago battle

A war of government broke out Tuesday night at City Hall, with City Council discussing a resolution giving controversial Police Director Joseph Santiago 14 days to announce intentions to move into Trenton, in order to comply with city law, after Mayor Douglas H. Palmer attacked the council plans earlier in the meeting.

“I believe I had the right, as mayor, to grant a waiver in extraordinary circumstances,” said Mayor Palmer. “If you vote to remove him, I am not getting rid of him.”

The mayor’s comment preceded discussion of the director’s residency and the law between council members, with Councilman Jim Coston producing a resolution that would have given the director two weeks to officially state his intentions about moving to Trenton.

With no intent to move into the capital, the governing body would have cause to give the director a hearing and remove him.

Council members Tuesday cited a need to uphold the law, and not petty politics or a police union vendetta as reasons for the controversy.

“I took an oath of office to the constitution of the state and the city code, to make allowances of exceptions to the law,” said Councilman Coston. “The issue is not Joseph Santiago, but whether we apply the law equally.”

The mayor – during an angry tirade in which he picked out individual residents and insulted them – threatened a prolonged court battle in the event that the council used its legal right to remove the director for openly violating city law, which requires department directors and other employees to live in town.

The mayor said the attack on the director had been orchestrated by police union anger and political agents, but Councilman Milford Bethea said the council’s deliberation were only about one thing.

“This is about the law, and the ordinance,” Councilman Bethea said.

Councilwoman Annette Lartigue said the council needed to have further discussion resolution prior to a vote, so the body went into emergency executive session at around 9 p.m. to discuss the document.

Councilman Coston said he was intent on delaying a vote no later than Thursday night’s council meeting.

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