By now many have learned that a state appellate court ruled on Wednesday that former Police Director Joseph Santiago has 75 days to tie up loose ends, pack his bags, and get out of Trenton because of his violation of the city’s residency ordinance.
The three-judge panel unanimously sided with a group of residents – including me – and the plaintiff’s attorney, George Dougherty, and rejected all of the arguments made by Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s group of high-paid lawyers.
Attorneys for the two had argued that the city’s residency ordinance interfered with the mayor’s statutory ability to appoint officials, and that the residency ordinance was completely invalid due to inconsistencies with some state residency law language.
But, “We reject both of these arguments. Therefore, we conclude that Santiago is subject to the 1972 residency ordinance and that he must vacate the position of Police Director because he is unwilling to reside in Trenton,” wrote Judge Stephen Skillman.
The 75-day transition period may not be the best thing for the city, but at least now it appears that Mr. Santiago is definitely on his way out the door ending a chaotic five-year reign as police head.
There is little chance of an appeal being heard by the state Supreme Court, and even if it heard, there is even less of a chance of Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer receiving a stay, meaning Mr. Santiago would have to hang around for probably more than a year to await a hearing.
That doesn’t sound very likely.
In the meantime, thanks to Mayor Palmer’s defense arguments in the lower court, Trenton now has an ironclad residency ordinance without any type of waiver provisions, after attorneys argued that the waiver provision was inconsistent with state residency language.
The mayor’s attorneys sought to have the entire ordinance invalidated for that reason, but instead only the relevant ordinance amendment was thrown out by the court, leaving the mayor with no power to appoint any outside help, whatsoever.
Thanks, Mayor Palmer.
So, hopefully this decision means the end of the affair.
City Council could go further in ensuring that outcome, by refusing to appropriate any more defense funds for Mr. Santiago, or even going as far as removing the former director from office themselves. That could be done with a two-thirds vote, before the conclusion of the 75-day period and before the director makes anymore questionable changes to the city’s police department.
The ball is in your court, council members.