Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I'd like to believe that we elect our peers to represent us at the different levels of government, since we all can't run things, or even attend every single civic event. I'd like to believe our elected neighbors will act in our best interest, will represent us appropriately, will provide a voice for the masses, knowing full well the masses may not always agree. Still, I'd like to believe our elected peers will speak well for the majority, and/or be able to find a really good common ground compromise. I'd like to believe that those peers are motivated by a desire to better our neighborhoods, our community, our cities, our states, and our nation, depending on the level of government to which we elected that particular peer.

Things don't always happen this way: a lot of politicians are self-serving egomaniacs, only concerned with their own shallow desire to get ahead, and maintaining shallow friendships in order to make it easier to get ahead. In the corporate world, the desire to move up the ladder isn't necessarily shallow, but I firmly believe that elected officials are held to a higher standard: civic responsibility among our elected peers is the priority.

We have a little bit of an embarrassing mess in this city, because our mayor, Douglas Palmer — elected among us — is looking out for one particular man: ousted police director, Joseph Santiago. Personally, I have a hard time supporting Santiago because his interpretation of what's happening in this city — where he does not reside, but is required to by local ordinance — is very different from my reality. But truly, my dismay of the whole situation is solely because the Palmer administration is selectively enforcing the law, and making an exception for one person who refuses to play by our rules; the rules we, the people, of Trenton, agreed upon, and expect our representatives, including our mayor, to uphold. It is how government is supposed to work, and with a singular focus — that is, a relatively small geographic location — our representatives SHOULD be able to uphold our laws without too much turmoil. Right?

Because of Doug Palmer's insistence that Joe Santiago is the only person for this job — an absolutely asinine statement, no matter how awesome Santiago may or may not be — this city has become embroiled in a lawsuit. A small group of citizens filed suit against Palmer and Santiago; and our elected representatives on city council followed the citizens' lead, and filed a suit of their own, insisting that there be no whimsical interpretation of Trenton's residency ordinance.

A Mercer County Judge sided with the people and their elected counterparts on council, and said that Palmer's waiver for Santiago is not legal, and Santiago's position is now vacant because he is in violation of the residency ordinance. How much money had been spent by that point, the time of the judge's decision? Since then, Palmer has asked for a stay, and has filed an appeal, costing Trenton taxpayers — already taxed too much for what we get in return — even more.

With the people of Trenton, their elected council peers, and a superior court judge all in agreement about the interpretation of the law, common sense would dictate that the council members would continue to stand behind their original suit; that they would not cave to Doug Palmer, who is pressuring them to legislate a new ordinance which would give more power to the mayor to randomly enforce our laws. It's crazy, right? Enough is enough.

Common sense would dictate, too, that since council and the citizens fought on the same side of this particular battle, and collectively want the same outcome, and because council members do, ultimately work for the citizens, that it's not such a far-fetched idea for council members to share non-personal correspondence from the mayor concerning this particular issue.

We all can't run the show, even if we all wanted to (which I don't; which is why I respect a politician who looks out for my interests). And because we can't all run our government, we rely on our elected neighbors to take care of business for us. We expect a certain transparency in government. We demand disclosure, because it is our city, our tax dollars, our quality of life at stake. And our elected representatives should — in a perfect world — be more than happy to produce the information we require, because, again, ultimately, our elected representatives are us. We are the same.

So, I want to thank South Ward Councilman Reverend Jim Coston for putting Palmer's letter to council concerning this ongoing residency mess, as well as Palmer's inexcusable, dead-freakin'-horse appeal on the matter, on his website. I am so grateful that an elected official — Jim Coston — keeps a blog and believes in keeping his neighbors informed and involved. He may not be my ward's councilman, but he rocks anyway: he is responsive to all the citizens in this city, and believes in the people, and well, I wish there was more of that among our elected peers on council. I realize that change takes time, but it is happening. It's just too bad that some members of council are not only opposed to change, but also, it would seem, opposed to serving the people, a job they swore to do. I'm talking specifically about At-Large Representative Cordelia Staton today — who, despite the fact that council as a body sided with the citizens of Trenton AND a superior court judge about the residency issue, has voted against the people, against the judge's decision; she continues to criticize Councilman Coston for his fantastic efforts to keep the citizens of Trenton in the loop. I certainly think people are allowed to disagree; I expect and want that among council members. It's not a bad thing when there are voices of dissent on council, because it generates needed discussion, and it makes sure that council, as a body, acts in the best interest of the people, in a transparent manner, so the citizens can see what's happening. Staton's dissention is, in a sense, transparent as well: her allegiance to the mayor — a man who no longer resides in the city, and may, in fact, no longer be useful to Trenton (actions speak louder than words, Doug) — is clear*. And completely inappropriate**.

* Ditto for At-Large representative and council president Paul Pintella. For shame.

** I know Councilwoman Staton, and perhaps others, will make the argument that certainly not all citizens of Trenton feel the same way about a particular issue. However, the fact that a law's been broken, and a judge has agreed, is powerful stuff; maybe it's time to move on, you know? Plus, this may sound arrogant, but I swear it isn't, I really do believe that many of the dissenting voices on this particular issue — the residency issue — are simply not informed voices. They are people who have been unwittingly betrayed by Doug Palmer and politicians like him. Palmer, and others like him, keep large blocks of people down, and unable to care about details of politics, nuances of interpretation, but only down enough that he (and others like him) can still get elected because of his supposedly common roots and his handsome smile. It is deplorable.

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