When I began Saucon Shenanigans in July 2020, I did so in response to some absolutely appalling behavior by elected council members that I had witnessed at repeated township council meetings over the previous few months. I thought (hoped) that if I drew attention to how inappropriate and counterproductive such behavior was that mature, responsible adults would take positive action to improve. In my first issue I wrote “My hope is that Council behavior will become more civil, collegial and professional as the year progresses, leading to better governance and better decisions. Increased transparency would be an improvement also.”
By and large, that hasn’t happened. Obviously my first mistake was to assume that I was dealing with mature, responsible adults.
And so here we are, 15 months later, with municipal elections fast approaching on November 2 and while I did not originally expect to endorse particular candidates in elections, I have no choice but to take a position on the best choices for Township Council and, because the local school board seems to have some of the same behaviors, Saucon Valley School Board.
SAUCON SHENANIGANS ENDORSES
If you’d like more detail on why I’ve chosen to endorse these candidates, keep reading.
There are so many reasons why Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci do not deserve your vote to continue on township council. I’ll try to keep it as succinct as possible.
Watch What They Do, Not What They Say
This is one of the guidelines I said I would use in writing this blog. That could hardly be more pertinent now when one looks at the egregious gaslighting that’s been pouring into our mailboxes from their campaign mailers.
“Cut your Earned Income Tax by 20% in 2021” – NO
No, they didn’t cut your earned income tax by anything. The statute that permits the collection of an additional .25% in EIT for the purpose of purchasing land for conservation has a sunset provision. That means that it MUST be ended after a certain period of time. The extra .25% has been in place for 15 years. BY LAW, it must be ended. They had nothing to do with it except to pass the facilitating ordinance, about which they had no choice.
“Refused Council pay – saving thousands of your dollars” – MISLEADING
This one appeared on a particularly ugly mailer implying that the Democratic candidates were trying to reap personal financial benefits from the Township by accepting the compensation provided for council members. The applicable township ordinance regarding council member compensation reads as follows:
“Salary of Council members. [Amended 4-18-1990 by Ord. No. 90-6; 12-27-1995 by Ord. No. 95-9] (1) Each member of the Council, elected or appointed to office on or after the effective date of this chapter, shall [emphasis added] receive the maximum annual compensation provided and allowable by the Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. § 65606, titled “Compensation of Supervisors,” and by law.”
That does not say “may”. It says “shall”. It is not negotiable. In fact, I would question whether it’s in violation of the ordinance to not accept the pay or whether the council person should be paid (with taxes, etc. deducted and reportable as income) and then, if they choose, donate it to wherever they like. At the May 6, 2020, council meeting, after that question was raised, the Council passed a motion to inquire of PSATS (the state advisory organization for municipalities) if a W-2 is required based on the fact that the ordinance says “shall.” While the motion passed, there has been no subsequent report on the answer to that question. Wonder why.
Incidentally, those thousands of dollars? Do you know what compensation is for a township council person? $3,250 per year. That’s right. Adding Social Security and Medicare taxes, it comes to $3,498.62 per year. For 3 council people, that totals $10,495.88. Do you know what the township’s budget is? For 2022, it’s $11,765,557 or for just the General Fund, $8,458,775.
Some quick math
$10,495.88 divided by $11,765,557 = .0009 (that’s .09%) OR
$10,495.88 divided by $8,458,775 (for the General Fund) = .0012 (that’s .12%)
They’re touting that they will save the township a whopping 0.09% of the budget by not taking their compensation. Or in relation to the General Fund – 0.12%. I call that a rounding error. And let’s not forget that their Republican council colleague, Council President Sandra Yerger, does take her compensation and has not signed on to reject it. In fact, her vote sank the resolution that Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci tried to jam through in May 2020 asking all council members to voluntarily forego their compensation.
Not only is that a miniscule amount of money in the township’s budget, it also raises the question of why do we compensate people at all for the job in the first place? Perhaps because we value their service and appreciate the time they put in? Or perhaps because we realize that it creates a consensual agreement between the citizens and their elected representatives that implies some responsibility of the elected representative to the people they serve? When you reject the compensation, are you also rejecting that responsibility?
If Lower Saucon Township were living on the brink of bankruptcy and had significant financial issues, this might (possibly) mean something. But it’s not. It’s a political ploy, despite what Mr. Banonis claimed at the May 6, 2020, council meeting. From the minutes: “Mr. Banonis said we’re not campaigning. … and it’s certainly not a campaign tool.” Really? Then why are you mentioning it in your campaign literature?
And why did Mr. Carocci’s motion to request voluntary refusal of council compensation include “for the remainder of 2020 and all of 2021?” Perhaps because he knew 2021 would be an election year?
Watch what they do, not what they say.
“Support our … fire services” – ONLY AFTER THEY BULLY THEM
Anyone who watched the shenanigans around the adoption of the 2021 budget back in October 2020 has to wonder what dictionary Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci get their definition of “support” from. By the addition of a footnote to the 2021 budget, they required that Lower Saucon Fire Rescue (LSFR) and Steel City Fire Company complete their merger – in the middle of a pandemic and with state resources seriously overwhelmed – before they could receive any funding in 2021. If the fire companies missed the deadline, then funding would be cut in incremental amounts down to eventually zero. LSFR leadership objected strenuously.
The merger didn’t happen. The deadlines passed. No funding was approved until June when all of a sudden it was just fine that they’d missed the deadline. After all that bullying, they went ahead and fully funded LSFR and named them sole fire services provider for the township, cutting off Steel City.
And then this October, Mr. Carocci, who loves to tout how he’s concerned about spending the residents’ money, arbitrarily suggested adding an additional $25,000, or a 12.5% increase, to the fire company budget even though LSFR had apparently not requested that amount, at least not in any public meetings. Those poor people at the fire company must be suffering from whiplash.
“Support our … police” – UNLESS YOU’RE IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS
This hypocrisy has been covered in the most recent issue of Saucon Shenanigans (see the blog archives “What’s the Rush, Boys?”). I urge you to read the details there. It boils down to Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci, abetted by Mrs. Yerger, approved $2500 per person Covid bonuses to all township employees EXCEPT the union police officers, supposedly because the township was in negotiation with the police union over a new contract. Of course, the details of that agreement had already been accepted the same night that the bonuses were awarded and Mr. Banonis argued that one had nothing to do with the other except, apparently, it did.
“Sound fiscal management” – BUT ABOUT THAT $920,000 EXCESS IN THE BUDGET
It’s astonishing that no one ever asks why for several years now the township has been adopting a budget that contains such a huge excess. Yeah, yeah, they tout that they “permanently” reduced township taxes by 20%, but why do you need an almost $1 million slush fund each year? The excuse used to be that they were stockpiling money for when the landfill gets built out, but no one’s mentioned that lately. (See below). And any planning for future development in the township to offset such a closure seems to have flown out the window in the last year also. Again, why is that?
And FYI, there’s no such thing as “permanently” reducing township taxes. They can raise them again whenever they want to.
Follow the Money
That’s one of the other guidelines I said I would use in writing this blog. So let’s look at a little history.
In 2015, the IESI Bethlehem landfill needed to expand to continue operations, an expansion called the Southeastern Realignment. That same year, a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania suddenly popped up stating that it was supporting three Republican candidates for LST council – Sandra Yerger, the current Council president, Tom Maxfield, and Bill Ross – in the May 19 primary that year. The $20,950 in contributions to the PAC came substantially ($20,000) from the landfill company (IESI Bethlehem) as well as an in-kind contribution of $500 from IESI NY Corp which oversaw the Bethlehem landfill and $450 from residents of the township. The bulk of the money was paid to Mercury Public Affairs of NY for producing mail pieces and other services. And the in-kind services were provided by Andrew Moss, an attorney who worked for Progressive Waste Solutions.
The expansion was subsequently approved.
Fast forward to 2021. Another landfill expansion is again on the table, this one for the Northern Realignment. And just in time for the general election, up pops our old friend, Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania, only this time with a mailing address in Crompond, NY instead of in Hellertown. This time they’re in it for much bigger money. This PAC has received $75,000 in contributions from Waste Connections US, Inc., a firm headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas, that happens to be the parent company of – wait for it – IESI Bethlehem landfill. And who is this “independent expenditure organization” supporting? Why, the three Republicans running for LST Council – Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky.
Coincidence, you say? This iteration of the PAC reports that its chairperson is one Andrew Moss of Cortlandt Manor, NY (sound familiar?). He conveniently has also provided a mailbox for the PAC. And the mail pieces and other campaign literature, GOTV and political consulting services, website and internet services? All the work of one Mercury Public Affairs, now apparently headquartered in Tampa, FL.
Of course, the local developer, David Spirk, who previously headed up Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania back in 2015 has been replaced by the above-mentioned Mr. Moss as chairperson and one Adwoa Boateng as treasurer, another New York state resident. What’s with all this NY interest in Lower Saucon? But you can find Mr. Spirk as an in-kind contributor to the Zavacky Carocci Banonis for Lower Saucon Township Council Committee along with a few other prominent area developers.
Then if we go back to January 2021 and remember that Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci, in a very ugly reorganizational meeting, forced Mrs. deLeon, who had decades of experience working as the council landfill committee liaison and who was content to remain as the liaison, out of her position so she could be replaced by Mr. Carocci, you might start to see some dots emerging that could possibly be connected. Because of course you wouldn’t want someone with extensive landfill experience to be the liaison to support the township’s committee. As I recall they objected that Mrs. deLeon was too confrontational. Wouldn’t want that.
But, there’s probably nothing there. As we all know, PACs are not permitted to coordinate with candidates’ campaigns and that never happens (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
On the other hand, if you find this all plausibly coincidental, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
Put all this together and ask yourself. Is this who you really want running this township for the next two to four years? How do the residents of Steel City, butted right up against the landfill, feel about this? Do you think your concerns will be adequately addressed? And do you really want the boorish, arrogant bullying that we’ve witnessed over the last two years to be the face that Lower Saucon presents to the world?
As to the third member of the slate, Mrs. Zavacky, well, you’re known by the company you keep.
Vote Opthof-Cordaro – Gress – Roney
School Board Choices
I don’t usually cover the Saucon Valley School Board but I have a few comments to make in that regard since how we educate our children is essential to the future of our world.
The current board is also engaging in a good deal of gaslighting as well. There’s been a lot of mealy-mouthed equivocating on the subject of masking, at least until Governor Wolf took the decision out of the hands of such people as serve on the current board. (Thank you, Governor Wolf.). This should have been the easiest decision they had to make. Their first and foremost responsibility is to keep our children safe and then, once that’s taken care of, to provide them with an effective education. And while they love to tout that they were the only district to keep in-person learning available all last year, they fail to mention that they did it by requiring masking. So faced with the same responsibility this school year, they dithered and vacillated and came up with a convoluted solution designed to guarantee no level of safety. And now they want you to re-elect them. No thanks.
As for the Republican candidate who claims to be a victim of racism, any white man who wakes up in this country and claims he’s a victim of racism is either delusional or too uneducated to be allowed to sit on a school board.