The Trenton Residents Action Coalition slapped Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer with a 17-page lawsuit Wednesday that alleges the 20-year mayor helped himself to public money in an illegitimate pay hike last year.
Mayor Palmer, Acting Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez, city department directors, and other high-ranking officials took hundreds of thousands of dollars in raises in August, later citing an ordinance passed by City Council that approved a contract with a city worker union as approval for the raises.
The suit, however, alleges the ordinance did not provide for the raises and that the manner in which it was written mean it is invalid.
Attorneys for TRAC say the ordinance appears to conflict with state law dictating how statutory officers are to receive pay raises and how municipalities can provide raises to other workers.
A successful suit could result in a ruling that the money must be returned to the coffers of a Trenton city government that has resorted to layoffs due to its extreme financial difficulties, yet finds time to hand raises to rich public officials.
The suit cites comments from City Council members who said they did not know they were approving raises.
Also, documents filed in court include a later ordinance that amended the City Clerk’s salary.
The ordinance, which passed approximately two months after the questionable union ordinance, lists an older salary for the clerk. TRAC believes the measure constitutes evidence that the union ordinance did not actually provide raises to the city’s most well-compensated officials.
Of particular interest will be City Council’s response to the suit, should Mercer County Judge Linda S. Feinberg invalidate the ordinance and order the money returned to the city.
Such an action will surely result in city officials lobbying council to pass a valid salary ordinance instituting the invalidated raises.
That ordinance would be subject to a citizens protest petition, which is widely expected in event of a real salary ordinance appearing on the City Council docket.
Ruins of Trenton editor Greg Forester is a member of TRAC and a listed plaintiff in the suit.