Trenton Downtowner Editor Joe Emanski recently observed that perhaps the civically active people involved in the Joseph Santiago residency flap are misguided, and should be pursuing other more important issues currently facing the city.
This is nothing new, with numerous residents and council members over the last month publicly questioning whether the city community was wasting time and effort on something that really isn’t that important to the city.
And while the reality is that the residency of Santiago probably ranks low on the severity list of problems facing New Jersey’s capital, the truth is that this residency controversy is actually a symptom of a much larger disease that afflicts Trenton’s city government.
Right now, Trenton’s government is a malfunctioning, anti-democratic entity, and that fact needs to be addressed before the city can hope to tackle any other sort of problem.
Specifically, city administration officials working under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer continually walk all over City Council, the City Code, and city residents.
The council is an ineffective body whose votes are usually an afterthought to administration officials pushing for their latest convoluted boondoggle, like citywide Wi-Fi or selling off the city’s valuable water infrastructure assets.
Like the Queen of England, council is treated like a ceremonial body only good for ceremonial approval of administration policies that are assumed approved prior to their introduction at a City Council meeting.
To know this truth, one only has to look at the perplexed and annoyed faces of Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum or Chief of Staff Renee Haynes when someone in council chambers actually speaks out, or asks a question about an administration initiative.
The City Code is also treated like a ceremonial group of laws, which are open to bending and interpretation by city administration officials and Mayor Palmer.
Take the residency law.
Numerous city officials do not actually meet the residency requirements, but only those who do not support the Palmer administration are ever investigated and removed for non-compliance. The others are allowed to remain, despite the mayor’s outspoken support of residency requirements.
Normally this situation was the status quo in Trenton, but, like Mr. Emanski said in his December editorial, the upcoming mayoral election and the perceived exit of King Palmer from the Trenton scene has something happening on City Council that has not been seen for quite some time – independent thinking and challenges of administration-sponsored policies.
That development has opened the door, ever so slightly, to a return to the normalcy of a regular democratic and American government, where the legislative body of the city can balance the executive branch, preventing unchecked power and the bending and breaking of city law, like the residency ordinance.
Bringing the residency complaint, and forcing the City Council to end the warping of law and the unchecked power of the administration, is being used as a tool to pry the representatives of the residents back into their proper role of questioning policies and making prudent decisions on every piece of legislation that comes before them, rather than the usually fait accompli-status of many weekly docket items.
If the residency movement succeeds – with the assistance of a City Council that finally steps up to the plate – then the stage will be set for a new era of proper political functioning in Trenton, and an end to the era of the repeated passage of onerous legislation, without a peep from City Council members.
On the surface it may seem that those involved in the residency flap would be better off by placing their energies somewhere else, but the truth is the disease of malfunctioning government must be cured before any larger goal can be attained.
Residency is one of the most critical symptoms of the creeping malaise of Trenton’s government.
It needs immediate treatment.