The end of a year, especially one as traumatic as 2020, always seems like a good time to take stock of where we are and so, at the last Lower Saucon Township council meeting on December 16, at almost the end of the meeting, Councilperson Jason Banonis put on his rose-colored glasses and provided us with a self-serving and highly congratulatory list of all the wonderful things that have happened in the past year. At the top of the list, of course, was the reduction in real estate and fire taxes followed closely by how the township handled the pandemic and weathered the fiscal challenges.
Now I’m certainly not going to turn down the tax relief – although I think it will eventually come at a future cost – but it’s safe to say that the circumstances that led to the reduction were pretty much outside of Council’s control. One factor was the decision several years ago – by a different Council – to decide to pay down Township debt. Another was the fact that LST happens to have a population heavily skewed towards people with jobs that were not lost during the pandemic, largely because, I suspect, many of our residents could transition to working from home. Because of that, revenue for the year actually increased. A third factor was the competent job that both Leslie Huhn, Township Manager, and Cathy Gorman, Finance Director, did in managing whatever additional costs were incurred because of the pandemic. But none of that was this Council’s doing. Keep that in mind if in future campaigns you hear the recurring refrain of “I lowered your taxes.”
The rest of the items on his list were relatively anodyne. What was missing were the list of the other “achievements” that this Council accomplished this year.
A Little History
Before I get to that list, a little history of how I came to writing this blog. I went to my first LST council meeting back on February 28. I was recovering from surgery and technically not supposed to be out of the house, but my neighbor, Kristen Stauffer, newly appointed to the Council, had called to tell me that there was a special meeting regarding her recent appointment and she was hoping I would be able to come to be supportive since she expected there would be some opposition to her appointment. So I bundled up and made my way to the Town Hall.
What I witnessed that night was simply appalling. Despite being legally appointed after a lengthy interview process with a judge brought in from Luzerne County so that there would be no conflict of interest with Northampton County judges (Mrs. Stauffer’s husband had recently accepted a position with Judge Morganelli), Mrs. Stauffer was demeaned and disrespected by her new fellow Council members, particularly Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci (himself only very recently appointed, not elected, to the Council). Her motives for running for Council were questioned. The fact that she had finished last in the election was thrown in her face. Her husband’s motives for resigning when he did were questioned. A resident who had lost out in the interview process for appointment to Mrs. Stauffer’s seat had filed a motion with the Court to have the appointment reconsidered on the basis of some, apparently inapplicable as it turned out, Court rule that made her appointment invalid. The Council first voted to ask Mrs. Stauffer to recuse herself from discussion and voting and then voted to have the township solicitor – who at one point came very close to telling Mrs. Stauffer to keep quiet – join the request for reconsideration by the Court. All this under the thin guise of “protecting the Township’s interests” in case Mrs. Stauffer’s appointment was invalid. There was a long, biased and completely irrelevant rehearsal of the history of the election and the subsequent inability of the Council to appoint a replacement for Mr. Stauffer provided by Mr. Banonis. There was more, so much more, but suffice it to say that it was one of the most disgusting displays of a complete lack of leadership and responsibility by public figures I’ve ever seen.
I hoped that the February 28 meeting was a one-off but, fearing it was not, I started attending all the Council meetings. There was little improvement so in July I began this blog hoping to shed some sunlight on what was happening. That has apparently not helped much either. So here’s my list of what the Council has accomplished this year.
This Year’s List of (Dubious) Accomplishments
- Created an environment in which it is permissible to demean and disrespect fellow Council members, including using insulting ad hominem attacks
- Challenged a legitimate Court appointment of a new Council member on a flimsy pretext
- Jammed through committee appointments without discussion of the qualifications of all the possible candidates
- Repeatedly antagonized township fire companies on the issues of merger and funding resulting in a bullying footnote in the 2021 budget that could potentially defund the fire company
- Voted for a truncated public comment period that is applied capriciously and which forestalls significant debate on controversial issues
- Created a troubling controversy over the appropriate application of pavilion rental rules which highlighted discrepancies in park policies and then ducked resolving the issue
- Declined to make substantive progress on future revenue growth planning
And oh yeah, they passed a tax reduction.
Is this really how you want your Township Council to behave? Is this really what you elected them to do? Is this your idea of good governance or care for the people they serve? I know my answer to all those questions is a resounding NO!
These five people have to spend at least another year working together. None of them is going anywhere. I would propose that at their reorganizational meeting on January 4, among all the housekeeping details they have to approve, they adopt the following 2021 resolutions:
- Treat fellow Council members with respect, as you would expect to be treated
- Give each Council member a chance to complete their statements without interrupting
- Eschew ad hominem attacks as well as churlish and loutish behavior
- Remember that you were elected by the residents of LST and that you are responsible to them whether you choose to take a salary or not. Public service means just that – service.
- Understand that leadership means sharing with township residents items of concern or interest whether or not they are covered in on-line committee meeting minutes
- Respect everyone’s time by staying on-subject. Expect the same of residents and non-residents who are commenting
- Get a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, read it and apply it for better-run meetings
Think how much more efficient and effective Council meetings would be. That’s my wish for 2021.
Next Township Council Meeting – Monday, January 4, 7 PM – Note: Monday, NOT Wednesday
Next Township Elections – Primary: Tuesday, May 18, 2021. General: Tuesday, November 2, 2021