The defence of both Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Police Director Joseph Santiago against a residents’ lawsuit seeking the ouster of the director rests firmly on positions that are complete reversals of earlier Santiago and Palmer rhetoric.
It’s true that politics is a dirty game and that one can easily reverse earlier stances on more benign issues, but the defences of these two men seriously call into question their ability to serve the public interest as city officials, not to mention the success of their defense would result in unfathomable consequences for numerous state entities.
After vigorously applying the city’s residency ordinance against dozens of employees who were investigated and found to be living in a way that was outside of Trenton’s residency law, Mayor Palmer’s defense teams now says that the law is invalid, and fails to follow the guidelines of state law on residency regulations.
In a similar way, Mr. Santiago maintained strongly in testimony to a state pension board that his new position as Trenton Police Director was a civilian position, but has now reversed that stance by hanging his hat on state law that protects policemen, firemen, and teachers from having to comply with residency ordinances.
Mayor Palmer, despite claims of being an accountable elected official, seems to be making it public knowledge that he is now willing to try to overturn a law that he staunchly supported in pushing for having a civilian director of police.
Let the City of Trenton not forget that Mayor Palmer originally claimed that a switch from a chief would provide additional accountability, because he would have more control over a man who lived in Trenton, instead of a powerful chief living outside of city limits.
And Mr. Santiago has made it clear that he is equally willing to reverse his position on issues of great importance, by basing his defence on the police nature of his job only a year after emphasizing the same job’s civilian nature, to keep tens of thousands of dollars in annual pension money coming into his pockets.
But both men’s reversals aside, what they seem to be basing their defences on could be faulty, for the following reasons.
In Mayor Palmer’s case, a ruling in court favoring his position would mean that residency ordinances across the county and across New Jersey would suddenly become invalid, freeing thousands of employees from the constraint and setting the stage for a mass exodus of people, money, and taxes out of many New Jersey towns.
Mr. Santiago’s vindication would mean that any mayor who had pushed for a director-led department based on additional accountability and the ability to make the director live in town – and not some far-flung suburb – would suddenly have the rug pulled from underneath them.
The consequences of supporting either of those positions or both together would likely be too high for any rational Mercer County Superior Court judge to support.
But, stranger things have happened.