The majority of Trenton City Council doubts Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s ability to grant exemptions to the city’s residency ordinance to Police Director Joseph Santiago, according to testimony given Thursday before the body went into executive session to discuss possible remedies to address the situation.
Avenues discussed publicly included having the director removed, through the council’s statutory ability to do so, or seeking a declaratory judgment on the matter from a Mercer County Superior Court judge.
“I challenge the notion that the mayor has the ability to grant these waivers, according to the ordinance,” said Councilman Gino Melone.
Mr. Melone joined Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, and Annette Lartigue in refuting the mayor’s ability to exempt certain employees from the ordinance, which requires employees to maintain a bona fide residence within Trenton city limits.
Manny Segura did not seem to take either side, besides calling for additional information.
Only Council President Paul Pintella and Vice President Cordelia Staton seemed to support the ability to grant waivers, pointing to a section of the law that provides for a grace period or exemption for those filling vacant positions after long and exhaustive searches did not turn up suitable candidates living, or willing to live in Trenton.
“It is not that simple Mr. President,” said Mr. Coston, which led to other council members declaring their belief that waivers, like those granted to Mr. Santiago, were not laid out in any section of the law.
Both Mr. Coston and Ms. Lartigue said that Mr. Santiago had not been hired to fill a vacancy – with the directorship being filled by Acting Police Director Abraham Hemsey at the time, in 2003 – so the exemption portion of the ordinance did not apply.
Curiously, Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez said he could not tell the council about the administration’s ability to grant waivers, or where the powers came from, in comments that almost elicited his removal from council chambers at the behest of Ms. Lartigue.
“The administration has made their position clear, and I cannot add to that,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who had moments before used the excuse that it was not his duty to provide an opinion on a legal issue to the council.
That drew Ms. Lartigue’s ire.
“Do not get smart with me tonight Mr. Gonzalez,” said Ms. Lartigue, who reminded Mr. Gonzalez that this was a council meeting, and not an administration meeting. “I will have you removed from chambers.”
Indeed, all administration officials were ordered to leave council chambers prior to the executive session.
More action is expected tomorrow on the residency issue.