Police Director Joseph Santiago has been effectively removed from his office today, after a Mercer County Superior Court judge sided with a group of residents and City Council and removed the director for violating the city’s residency ordinance.
“Since Santiago has ceased to be a resident of Trenton, he has violated the residency requirements of section 2-95 and is, therefore, disqualified from serving in his position as director,” wrote Judge Linda Feinberg.
Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his supporters suffered a major defeat, with the judge ruling that the mayor does not have the power to selectively enforce the law to his liking.
Another impact of the ruling is that parts of the city’s residency code have been invalidated, setting the stage for another residency conflict regarding how the City of Trenton deals with the ability to grant waivers to the law, which was so badly abused in the Santiago affair.
Judge Feinberg determined that the city’s waiver provisions, in one section of the ordinance, were inconsistent with superceding state law.
In response to that finding that section of the ordinance has been severed and invalidated, leaving the city with a residency law that does not allow for any non-resident to attain office in the city.
That raises the question of what will happen with the ordinance and waiver provisions in the future.
City Council members will likely feel pressure to move to add legal waiver provisions to the ordinance, but whether this is needed or not is readily apparent.
The ordinance operated perfectly fine for over 20 years without having any waiver provisions, and then not a single waiver was granted after the provision was added, except the illegal waiver given to Mr. Santiago by Mayor Palmer.
Some argue that the City of Trenton needs the waiver provision so the city has the ability to legally hire an employee who would never move into this city who had superior wonderful skills.
But the evidence of such a need is sorely lacking, with a waiver never having been granted a SINGLE time in the city’s history.
City Council should leave the ordinance as-is, after it has functioned so well for so long without the political mess that having such a waiver provision could cause.
Trenton will be better off that way.