Monthly Archives: March 2008

Palmer on residency in 1999

Changes will bring accountability

By DOUGLAS H. PALMER

Excerpts from a March 15, 1999 Times of Trenton Op/Ed

“Under the current system, with the police department headed by a police chief, my ability as mayor to hold the head of the police force completely and immediately accountable for providing this relief is greatly limited. There are stipulations concerning when, if, how, and for what reason a police chief can be disciplined or terminated.

Perhaps the greatest limitation, however, is job tenure. As it exists, the police chief serves from date of appointment until mandatory retirement at age 65. Even residency is a complicating factor. The mayor cannot even require that the police chief live in our city. I personally believe, and have heard from enough residents to know that they too believe, when it comes to the safety of our city, nothing is more important, symbolically, than for the head of the police force to live in the city that he or she is in control of protecting and serving. I cannot be persuaded that it is OK for our police chief to be isolated from our communities.

I want someone who will work with this administration, city council and our community as a team, with one goal in mind, better policing, for a safer community.

I want someone who will live with us and work with us, without the shield of tenure for job protection, a luxury that neither I nor city council have. We cannot sit in our positions and know that, barring the most extreme circumstances, our jobs are guaranteed until age 65, as a police chief can. There simply is too much at stake in our communities to provide that much of a disincentive for a police chief to make the difficult decisions or major changes that are required in such a tough job.

As we continue working toward our goal of neighborhood revitalization, we must be assured that the person responsible for police operations feels a strong sense of obligation to work as a member of the team to help reach a common goal. We have an opportunity not to subject ourselves to the whims of a police chief who may or may not have the same goals in mind.”

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Watershed moment for Palmer

I have heard it myself in recent days.

“Only in Trenton could a mayor do this.”

Only in Trenton would a mayor take an issue that is such a defining moment in the city’s recent history and selfishly turn it into the defining moment in his tenure as the city’s executive.

Mayor Palmer did just that in the Times of Trenton Sunday, by claiming that the ultimate fate of Police Director Joseph Santiago – and the controversial battle over his office – would end up being the defining moment of Mayor Palmer’s 18-year career as mayor of New Jersey’s capital city.

It may have been an attempt to rally supporters or bring attention to the issue, but in reality this label has only raised the stakes in the matter, as the mayor seeks to have the very City Council he faced off with in court turn around and amend the city’s residency law, effectively reversing their own court victory.

Only in Trenton could such an audacious plan even gain traction.

The statements probably came because Mayor Palmer has enjoyed unchallenged supremacy over his supposedly co-equal branch of government until this year, when City Council has actually begun showing backbone by looking out for the public interest instead of catering to the political initiatives of a misguided and often self-centered executive.

Despite what may have transpired in the past, the deck is stacked against Mayor Palmer, and that is why this latest gamble might represent the first footsteps of doom in the political career of a politician who long ago stopped looking out for the common folk of his own hometown.

There is a vast array of obstacles that all lie directly in the path of Mayor Palmer’s expressed goal of manipulating city law to preserve his own ego and the continued employment of a single city employee of questionable value.

First, there are the residents themselves, who have seemingly awakened from a slumber of complacency to openly challenge the lack of accountability inherent in many of the public officials making up the Palmer administration.

Sure, the same voices from all of the controversies of the past have been involved. But joining them now are people from all corners of the city, with different economic classes, viewpoints, and skin colors.

This newly found civic strength has provided the impetus for numerous policy defeats for the formerly invincible mayor. He has lost a battle over hiring more police, keeping gang consultant and crony Barry Colicelli on the payrolls, and it definitiely seems like he has lost ground on a looming city budget battle.

All of those victories were secured by the second most important obstacle that blocks the way towards salvation for Mr. Santiago through the warping of city law – City Council.

City Council has now authored a string of policy victories that have re-instilled a sense of confidence in the branch of government that used to be the subject of public ridicule. Councilmen Manny Segura, Gino Melone, Jim Coston, and Milford Bethea have emerged as an effective and thoughtful council majority that constantly steps forward to protect the public interest.

Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, is the actual language of Judge Linda Feinberg’s recent court decision in denying an appeal and stay in the Santiago case that she saw recently in Mercer County Superior Court.

The specific language in her opinion states that the only way Mr. Santiago could be reappointed is if the law was amended, and the city engaged in a diligent search for viable candidates.

Not only would that search take months, but the amended law would create a hierarchy of candidates who would be weighted according to their proximity to Trenton, meaning that Mr. Santiago’s Stirling, New Jersey address would be of great detriment to his chances of attaining office.

Also of negative effect on Mayor Palmer’s expressed desire to keep Mr. Santiago on as director of police is that Mr. Santiago has reportedly received numerous job offers.

It is a good bet that many of those would have much less controversy and much more upside than keeping a job where he is neither liked nor wanted.

This is surely a tenuous cause for Mayor Palmer to have attached his entire executive legacy upon.

For what he has done to Trenton and what he is trying to do, it would be best that that legacy goes down in flames.

No other constituents anywhere in the entire world should ever be subjected to the indifferent and untruthful government that has become the hallmark of the Douglas H. Palmer years, here in Trenton.

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Political maneuvering afoot

With the ink on Judge Linda Feinberg’s ruling that Police Director Joseph Santiago must leave office permanently by April 24 barely even dry, already the evil wheels of politics are spinning as Mayor Douglas H. Palmer seeks to circumvent his worst defeat by having his own adversaries on City Council do his bidding, and amend the city’s residency ordinance.

After Judge Feinberg invalidated the city’s residency waiver provisions – which were never used a single time for 40 years – she left open the door for City Council to amend the very law they have so staunchly defended so that a waiver could be granted to Mr. Santiago, providing an opportunity for him to retake his vacated office.

While Mayor Palmer’s puppets – like Council President Paul Pintella – have already signified their openness to performing such a heinously political legislative move, it seems at least two other, cooler council heads have other ideas.

“We’re not going to keep changing laws to provide exceptions for certain individuals who have the mayor’s favor, especially when there have been over 20 folks who’ve been fired for not living in the city while they work here,” said Councilman Jim Coston to the Times of Trenton today.

Councilman and residency supporter Manny Segura also balked at Mr. Pintella’s rush to get the amendment done for Mayor Palmer, saying to the Times that he saw no urgency in the matter.

It is certainly good to see the sentiments of these two, considering it is likely that both councilwomen Cordelia Staton and Annette Lartigue will support such an amendment.

Ms. Staton is a known Palmer delator, and Ms. Lartigue has constantly hinted at amending the ordinance after the Santiago affair was over.

She has also been seen meeting with both Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago privately during the lawsuit, around the time Ms. Lartigue’s husband was promoted to director of the Trenton Housing Authority.

If the unthinkable or possibly likely scenario begins to unfold, those council members and residency amendment supporters need to be called out, for they will truly be harming the public interest.

They will have wasted hundreds of thousands of city dollars in legal fees, all spent on a court case that would have never happened had they already amended the law.

And they will have totally subverted the power of a 40-year-old ordinance that was enacted by and has the support of a majority of residents within the city.

They will have dirtied the very laws that rule this city by creating a legal means for city politicians to enforce laws against some employees while sparing others, destroying public confidence in the rule of law in Trenton and beyond.

For all of its problems the original waiver provision was so complicated and convoluted it was likely a waiver would never have been granted, but state-prescribed waiver provisions seem more open to political meddling, and there is more of that stuff in Trenton than anywhere, save maybe Atlantic City.

Let them know there is no need to carve exceptions to time-honored rules for Mayor Palmer’s most favored employees.

Write a letter, pick up the phone, or type out an e-mail.

Residents of Trenton need to make it known to their council members that such a move is unacceptable.

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Judge: Santiago has 30 days to leave Trenton

Police Director Joseph Santiago has until the end of the business day on April 24 to pack his bags and leave the office of Police Director forever, according to a court ruling handed down today by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg.

The new ruling represents an amendment to last week’s decision that Mr. Santiago had to vacate the office immediately, but still signifies a defeat for Trenton’s mayor, Douglas H. Palmer, and his lawyers, who had pushed for a stay on the original ruling while they pursue an appeal.

Judge Feinberg rejected all of Mayor Palmer’s arguments for granting the stay, which generally rested on the notion that the Police Department could not function properly with Mr. Santiago’s absence, and that residents of the city would be in danger without Mr. Santiago at the helm.

“There is no reason to believe that the removal would make the Police Department ‘rudderless’,” said Judge Feinberg. “No law enforcement agency depends on the presence of one man.”

The court proceedings saw lawyers for Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago appeal to all sorts of arguments in an effort to get a stay. They attacked the police unions, calling the lawsuit a tool to get rid of Mr. Santiago, rather than a citizen-initiated action.

They attacked three affidavits made by current and former police officials as biased, while purporting defense affidavits made by Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and Special Counsel Stephen Trimboli to be unbiased.

Defense attorneys said City Council members had not made their official sentiments on the issue known and stated that Mayor Palmer was the ultimate representative of the people of the city, making his take on the issue of the highest importance to the case.

Mayor Palmer’s attorney Angelo Genova questioned whether City Council’s attorney David Corrigan even really represented the views of council members, because the council members hadn’t actually filed official certifications or affidavits in any of the case’s briefs.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer George Dougherty said all of the arguments made by the defense ignored the rules of Trenton’s residency ordinance, and instead appealed to extraneous issues like Mr. Santiago importance and performance in the job.

Mr. Dougherty equated the 30-day period to granting someone a month to get his or her affairs in order after being charged with driving without a driver’s license.

“You would never do that,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Mr. Santiago’s lawyers made the peculiar argument that the director represented Trenton’s only civilian authority in the department and his removal would mean that the old police leadership would take over, even though Mr. Santiago isn’t even a civilian from Trenton.

In the end, Judge Feinberg rejected the stay requests for the defense outright, ordering the position vacated on April 24.

But the judge stated there was a bizarre possibility that City Council members could move to adopt a legal waiver provision ordinance, which would allow the process to be set in motion to grant Mr. Santiago an official waiver and reoccupy his directorship.

It does not seem like that is likely, based on the public statements of a majority of City Council members.

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City Council continues stellar work

Trenton City Council Monday again sided firmly with the group of nine residents – including me – who sued the city over Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-residency, with their attorney filing an informal brief with plaintiffs’ attorney George Dougherty.

City Council’s attorney David Corrigan joined Mr. Dougherty and the plaintiffs in rebuking the crescendo of empty calls for a stay of Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg’s decision to immediately vacate Mr. Santiago’s position as Police Director a week ago today.

Also of significance was that City Council has officially denounced the continued involvement of attorney Susan Singer in the case, with Mr. Corrigan labeling Ms. Singer’s filings and motions on the behalf of the City of Trenton as misrepresentations.

“I can state categorically and without hesitancy that the City Council has not authorized Ms. Singer to file any papers with respect to this matter,” wrote Mr. Corrigan. “This is more than a matter of semantics. It is at the very least misleading and probably inaccurate for Ms. Singer to purport to represent the City of Trenton.”

These statements continue the trend of City Council stepping up to the plate for the best interests of the residents, both morally and financially.

The same cannot be said of Mayor Palmer, who has at best been exposed as a petty, common politician, and at worst as an ego maniacal, self-obsessed liar willing to stop at nothing and spend anything to eke out what would surely be a Pyrrhic victory over his own residents and his own previously expressed position on residency.

Even in this matter, Mayor Palmer opened the city coffers to numerous unnecessary attorneys and counsel like Ms. Singer, who has not made a single worthwhile dent in the entire Santiago case.

In fact, her only real effect besides wasting oxygen has been to also suck up precious city dollars.

Ms. Singer has only provided another high-priced voice to the group of attorneys who have sacrificed their souls by helping a desperate mayor continue a legacy of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Anyway, kudos to City Council, and let’s hope for the best tomorrow morning during the hearing that will hopefully yield the final severing of Mr. Santiago’s employment relationship with the City of Trenton.

Let the post-Santiago era begin.

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Trentonian: investigation likely headed nowhere

For all of its problems, the Trentonian does have a good tendency to say what needs to be said when other media outlets’ editorial pages remain quiet, or spew misguided pieces that seem to support the political establishment over the average Mercer County resident.

One of these instances came yesterday, with City Editor Paul Mickle’s piece about the problems stemming from having politically-appointed county prosecutors responsible for investigating government institutions full of local politically-connected people.

The piece followed this week’s announcement that the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating personnel at a county welfare office, for alleged crimes involving assistance funding.

This office happens to be a repository of politically-connected people, with Councilwoman Annette Lartigue and former Councilman Frank Cirillo both employed there.

There may be an established system for nominating and appointing county prosecutors, but it seems quite counterproductive to have someone as political as Joe Bocchini responsible for going after criminals in Mercer County, especially those who happen to be Democrats.

New Jersey is hands-down one of the most corrupt states in the nation, and that situation seems to scream out for a different system of appointing prosecutors and other law enforcement officials that are the first defense against corruption and the perversion of the public interest.

Having these people handcuffed because of the politics of patronage and appointment means that investigations like the Mercer County welfare office are likely to go nowhere, as politicians and politically-connected employees scurry for cover under the blanket of influence that covers our state, Mr. Mickle wrote.

The people at Ms. Lartigue’s office very well might not have committed a crime, but if they were to do so, it seems that there would be a very high probability that any investigation would quickly be suffocated under a blanket of political pressure and loyalty.

Maybe it’s time for a new system.

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Shoot this proposal down

Trenton City Council tabled an idiotic appropriation to purchase $200,000 in unnecessary new handguns for the Trenton Police Department Thursday night, after it was revealed that the department’s current supplier offered to resupply the entire department with new weapons at no cost.

Of course the numb-skulls leading the effort to procure the new .45-caliber Springfield guns in place of the current Glock .40s were none other than the henchman of the reportedly outgoing, disgraced Police Director Joseph Santiago.

The measure was placed on City Council’s docket unceremoniously this week, with a recommendation from Police Captain Paul “Sleepy” Messina and some of Mr. Santiago’s other cronies that getting larger-caliber guns would give the Trenton Police Department better, safer firepower.

Excuse me, but anyone who has fired a gun before will tell you that the improvement in power, force and range in the .45 versus the .40 is not that great.

In fact, one police source this week said that with the current .40s, any suspect struck by a round is likely to stop doing whatever it is that they may be doing.

The other argument was that female officers and so-called “bad shooters” could better handle the larger weapons.

Police officers have already debunked the idea that some female officers cannot fire the smaller weapon safely, pointing out that there have been no safety issues in the department with firearms for decades.

There haven’t been many accidental shootings in recent memory, except maybe that time when one of Mr. Santiago’s boys discharged his weapon into the front of a vehicle that was speeding towards a hospital with a wounded man inside.

The move towards the new guns would have probably ended up being one of his last official impacts on the department, but luckily it seems that cooler heads might prevail.

One council member correctly pointed out that $200,000 is one cent worth of tax rate, and the way things are going now, this city simply cannot currently afford to spend more tax dollars on such an unnecessary expenditure.

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