More lawyers, more wasted money

In what could only be construed as more fiscal mismanagement by those in power in the City of Trenton, both Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and City Council are seeking private legal services in the ongoing controversy over Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-residency in Trenton.

Mayor Palmer and City Council already have the services of Special Counsel Joseph A. Alacqua, City Attorney Denise Lyles, and an army of lawyers at their disposal for a cost of several hundred thousand dollars per year, but the two entities have apparently decided to spend additional taxpayer dollars by seeking outside legal help.

If retained next week the new attorneys will be sitting in on a very simple case, in which eight Trenton residents and myself sued the city, Mayor Palmer, and Mr. Santiago, seeking Mr. Santiago’s removal for his non-residency and a statement that Mayor Palmer has no ability to warp the law in his favor.

That suit was filed after Mayor Palmer continued to insist that he has an unspecified right to bend the city’s residency law by providing waivers to an employee who has said publicly that he does not and will not live in Trenton.

All of this could have been avoided if either Mr. Alacqua or Ms. Lyles had done their jobs as city counsel and provided legal opinions on the matter, but both refused to do so, citing conflicts between Mayor Palmer and City Council.

Perhaps they fear what an angry Mayor Palmer might do if they told him what many attorneys reviewing the case have said – Mayor Palmer doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

The mayor’s belief that the law gives him the ability to grant a waiver seems to be contradicted by his constant calls for City Council to amend the ordinance, according to Councilman Jim Coston.

But Mayor Palmer remains adamant about his super-legal powers.

“I hold out to the council my belief that I have the authority to grant the waiver but the ball’s in their court,” said Mayor Palmer in the Times of Trenton this week.

City Council is expected to retain the services of a Monmouth County lawyer by Thursday of next week, after the body took a straw vote on the attorney following their residency flap executive session last week, officials said.

And Mayor Palmer has apparently contacted attorney Angelo Genova to represent him, despite the fact that he does not need his own attorney in the matter since he has not been sued independent of his role as mayor of Trenton, and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit do not seek damages from Mayor Palmer.

Both Mr. Alacqua and Ms. Lyles should be perfectly capable to handle such a simple matter, legal sources said this week.

Mr. Genova has already asked attorney for the plaintiffs George Dougherty for an adjournment of the case, which Mr. Dougherty denied.

City Council will have the peculiar opportunity to deny Mayor Palmer from retaining Mr. Genova with city funds next week, when a resolution awarding a contract to the attorney would likely come before council.

Council members said they would have to think carefully about letting Mayor Palmer spend more taxpayer dollars, after the mayor threatened to drag out the case for months and spend city funds extravagantly in defence of his authority to bend the law.

Mr. Santiago as already retained his own council, although it is not known whether those services are being paid for by Trenton taxpayers, who face a tax increase this year because of a budget shortfall of many millions of dollars.

Barring an adjournment granted by a Mercer County Superior Court judge, the case should be in court on Feb. 22.

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