Trenton residents who support the current interpretation and enforcement of the city’s residency laws must be prepared for an effort to change the law through an ordinance amendment backed by minions of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who made it abundantly clear Tuesday that he believes he need not abide by the laws governing the City of Trenton.
Even Councilwoman Annette Lartigue suggested the possibility of a referendum or amendment to the ordinance during a discussion of the controversy surrounding Police Director Joseph Santiago, who continues to live outside city limits, in violation of the law.
The Palmer administration does have a history of amending the law through popular referendum in the past, having utilized a referendum to end the Police Chief position heading the department and replace it with the current director system of leadership.
The good news: a petition of around 1,100 signatures of registered city voters could end the threat of such a law-bending ordinance amendment, effectively ending the apparently sovereign mayor’s ability to bend the law to his liking by hastily ramming an amendment through a sometime weak City Council.
It remains to be seen whether the current council would even support such an amendment to city law, but if they do, the political fallout could be deadly to some of the council members. Many of them — except for North Ward Councilman Milford Bethea — plan to run for reelection to their council seats, or have greater aspirations for the mayor’s chair down the hall at 319 E. State Street.
But backing down in the face of a fiery, despotic mayor would severely damage their political credibility in standing up for the law they swore to uphold when they first entered office.
Political memory can be short, but a controversy of this size and any move signifying weakness will probably follow them right into the 2010 election.
Residents supporting the enforcement and maintenance of the law should be prepared to sign petitions, send letters to the editor, and call their representatives to make their feelings crystal clear.
Even if you don’t attend council meetings, make your feelings known.