Friday, March 07, 2008

Santiago elimination - Courier - Editorial: Wrong choice in PR effort

Published in the Courier News, Friday, March 07, 2008

[Editorial - Removal of Chief Santiago]
Plainfield makes wrong choice in PR effort

In their quest to win public support for a plan to oust Police Chief Edward Santiago and replace him with a civilian director, Plainfield city officials this week brought in a man described as "a leading authority on police matters."

His name is Joseph Santiago, no relation to the chief, but rather well known in the state for all the wrong reasons.

Joseph Santiago, the current police director in Trenton, is the former -- and short-lived -- superintendent of state police, one of many ill-conceived appointments by former Gov. Jim McGreevey.

The choice of Santiago, who had been Newark's police director, had all the earmarks of cronyism from the beginning, thanks to McGreevey's ties to former Newark Mayor Sharpe James. Santiago had a checkered personal and professional history in Newark, including a conviction for beating up a corrections officer and tax delinquency.

That background alone made him the wrong choice to head up an agency that itself was struggling so mightily with its own image after racial profiling scandals. But Santiago went on to commit a series of embarrassing blunders during his brief reign as superintendent. Santiago at one point took to wearing a badge and uniform he had supposedly earned from taking a state trooper class that only existed on paper. Santiago also reportedly ordered confiscation of all files potentially critical of himself and his executive staff. And state police investigators also discovered alleged mob links to Santiago.

Joseph Santiago eventually resigned under fire, but found a soft landing in Trenton, although his stint there has not been without its own controversy. A lawsuit citing the city's residency requirement -- which was waived in Santiago's case -- wants Santiago to either move to Trenton or lose his job.

Why does any of this matter now, to Plainfield? City officials already have a credibility problem on this issue. There remains good reason to assume they are motivated primarily by the desire to rid themselves of Chief Santiago. But they can't publicly admit that in gaining state approval for their restructuring plan, so instead, they've crafted the proposal to emphasize the benefits of a civilian director.

Joseph Santiago was invited to speak at a City Council meeting on Monday to reinforce the message, but city leaders could scarcely have found anyone with less credibility. Joseph Santiago may be a fine law enforcement official. But given all of his baggage, is he the one officials should want helping out in what amounts to a public relations campaign?

Officials need to do better than that. If they can't, it only raises more questions about the wisdom of the restructuring plan.

Online story here. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.