Plans are being drawn up to get a newer, tougher residency laws on the books in Trenton to prevent the kind of political meddling that has become the hallmark of the city’s current government, led by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.
To put it lightly, the enforcement of a law that requires employees and their families to live in Trenton and become a part of the city community has been inconsistent under Mayor Palmer’s leadership.
Favored employees tend to receive illegal exceptions to the law while other employees have been investigated and removed from their positions with great fanfare by Palmer administration officials.
The new ordinance would put a stop to that, by placing stronger controls on the granting of waivers by requiring City Council to sign off on any exceptions with their consent, and an affirmative vote of at least five council members.
The new push to get official petitions out to the city’s voters stems from the sudden rumors of a desire to amend the current law on the part of certain council members, who have seemingly reversed their earlier position on the law.
City Council members Paul Pintella, Annette Lartigue, and Cordelia Staton have stated publicly that they would like to amend the ordinance, after Police Director Joseph Santiago’s residency controversy is resolved.
The initiation of the ordinance would also serve to publicly flush out into the public eye exactly which council members are going against the city’s interests with thoughts of weakening the law.
Those officials would have to publicly put themselves on the side of a line in the sand opposite a sizable portion of Trenton’s voters, and a large and organized group of citizens who would likely place their votes with pro-residency candidates in the upcoming 2010 election.
That could all be avoided though, according to legal sources, who said Sunday that the City Council would have the ability to adopt the strengthened residency ordinance themselves, without forcing a special election for a law that is overwhelmingly supported in the Trenton community.
Once in place, the ordinance would be legally impervious to amendments or revisions for a period of three years, during which violators holding city positions could be rooted out and dismissed without protection from extra-legal waivers or meddling by Mayor Palmer or his contingent of henchmen on City Council.
The new version of the residency law could go far in stamping out the existence of rampant cronyism in Trenton, by including language inhibiting the ability of the mayor or administration to create patronage positions like the one formerly held by recently-ousted gang consultant and non-resident Barry Colicelli, without a thorough search for Trenton employees and residents who could provide similar services.
That section would likely require a more open public bidding process and stringent regulation to prevent anymore phony-baloney contracts given to the family members of Mayor Palmer’s close friends or the former Newark coworkers of Mr. Santiago, on the taxpayer’s tab.
With the poor turnout in Trenton’s last general election, organizers of the ordinance push have certainly been given a unique gift, in their ability to initiate ordinances by getting at least 770 signatures of the city’s registered voters while challenging current city laws with the collection of around 1200 signatures.
Should the Palmerites on City Council move to amend the current ordinance prior to the initiation of the new one, the petition efforts would simply morph from an initiative into the protest of the weakened ordinance, with an eye to correcting and strengthening its language.
Council members moving to preemptively amend the ordinance and weaken it to appease Mayor Palmer and administration officials would likely have egg on their collective face, by siding with a power-hungry mayor instead of the residents and voters of Trenton.
The creation of a suitable petition and organization efforts have already begun, and canvassers will likely be in city neighborhoods sometime in March.