Fixing the Library Problem

While it’s morally satisfying to call out the repugnant behavior of four members of the Lower Saucon Township Council in their dealings with both township residents and other municipalities, and while it’s very important to continue to keep township residents up-to-date on what is happening, the reality is that it’s not moving the problem towards resolution.

To date the LST Council members (Mrs. deLeon always excepted) have dragged their feet, gaslighting us and showing exactly no interest in spending the time and energy necessary to resolve the problem.  They have deliberately obfuscated the issue with detours and sidetracks and flat-out lies. So I’d like to lay out a process by which we might actually get to resolution.

The Basics

With all due respect to Pastor Spohn’s well-intentioned attempt at mediation, the fact is that this problem is an LST problem, pure and simple. LST Council created the problem; they exacerbated the problem, and they have refused to deal with solving the problem.

Hellertown Borough and HAL have a functional bilateral agreement that delivers library services to Hellertown residents to both parties’ satisfaction for 2022.  Where they go for 2023 and beyond is up to them. If they have to continue without LST’s participation, that will be up to them to decide.

Before anything else, as a gesture of good faith, the LST Council needs to agree to 1) pay its budgeted support to HAL for the remainder of 2022 and 2) drop its threat to sue the library.  Without that minimal action, HAL should immediately cut off all services to LST residents for lack of payment.  LST budgeted $107,168 for HAL for 2022, or $8931/month.  Based on LST’s population, the state provided HAL with $22,968.  LST paid for one month of services for January.  The state money covered an additional 2.6 months of services.  That amount was exhausted on April 18.

Next, these questions need to be answered:

  • Do the residents of LST want library services?  We know that as of January there were 3,328 residents who were members of the library (2,513 adults/815 juveniles).  The 2020 census counts 11,094 residents in the township.  So 29.998% of LST residents held library cards.  Let’s call it 30%.  But that number doesn’t necessarily represent the number of residents who want to have access to a library.  There may be far more who at least want access even if they don’t currently utilize it.  And that number doesn’t include children who don’t hold their own library cards but use the facilities on their parents’ cards.  There hasn’t been a survey about library services since back in 2014? 2015? when LST cut ties with the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

So let’s get an accurate count. There’s a primary election coming up in a little over 3 weeks on May 17.  Let’s set up a table outside each of the polling places in the township and ask every voter one question:  Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?  Yes or No, as simple as that.  No complicating questions about how to pay for it or clouding the issue with “regionalization” or anything like that.

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Collect each person’s name, address and how many people are in their household.  This will cover juveniles who cannot get library cards on their own.

After that, cross reference the responses with the resident lists and send a letter with a self-addressed, stamped postcard to every resident who has not responded on May 17 that asks: 

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

At the same time create a page on the township website where residents can respond to one question:

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Set a deadline. Count up the responses.

  •  What is the minimum number of responses required for this to be deemed a valid survey?  And what is the minimum threshold that is required to pursue library services for the township?  0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, some other number?  The LST Council should be forced to set both these numbers before any results are tallied.
  • It is at this point that we come to a crucial question.  Does the LST Council even have any intention of providing library services to its residents at all?  It’s a legitimate question because up to this point, their actions (and remember, watch what they do, not what they say) have indicated that they are driving us down the path to losing all library services on December 31, 2022.

If they have no intention of providing library services to LST residents, they should be required to state that clearly before July 1, 2022, so that HAL will know not to include LST population numbers in their 2023 request for state funds.  If they refuse to state their intentions clearly and in writing before July 1, 2022, HAL should, for its own protection, not include the LST population numbers in their 2023 request.

If the answer is “no,” then let them take their chances at the ballot box in November 2023.

If The Answer is Yes

Step 1.  Agree to a One-Year Extension of the Agreement with HAL to Cover 2023

Step 2. Appoint a Library Committee

If the LST Council does intend to go forward with providing library services for its residents, the next question is:

What is the best way to provide library services?

In order to answer that question, the Council should appoint a Library Committee tasked with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  The committee should be composed of township residents who are willing to commit the time and energy to investigate the various options and have indicated their support for the township providing library services.  The committee should NOT include:

  • Council members except for one Council liaison and that should be Mrs. deLeon since no other Council members have voted in favor of continuing library services to this point.
  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor

The following people should be asked to provide subject matter expertise if requested by the committee but should not have a vote on the committee:

  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor
  • Representatives from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Representatives from other municipalities and libraries
  • Other subject matter experts as deemed necessary by the Committee

Step 3.  The Library Committee Charge and Deadline

Charge the Library Committee with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  This might include but not be limited to:

  • Continuing a relationship with HAL on a bilateral basis
  • Reinstating a relationship with HAL in conjunction with Hellertown Borough
  • Implementing a library tax to support an agreement with HAL
  • Entering into a regional library arrangement which does not currently exist, dependent on the regulations of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Other configurations

Provide whatever funding and administrative support is needed by the Committee.

Set a deadline for the Committee to complete its work and submit its report.

Step 4.  Town Hall Meeting

Schedule a town hall meeting of at least one hour to hear the results of the Library Committee’s work and provide for public discussion of the options presented. Arrange for the meeting to be livestreamed or, better, available through interactive video.

Step 5.  Adopt and Implement One of the Committee’s Recommendations

Because the LST Council will have previously committed to providing library services to its residents, the Council will then be expected to choose one of the available recommendations and begin implementation as early as possible.

There you have it – one path to fixing the library problem.  I’m certain there are a number of equally viable possibilities as well as a number of tweaks that would make this path more effective.  Whether this is the best option or not, it is a process for movement towards resolution.  It is not a continuation of the foot-dragging gaslighting that we’ve watched since almost a year ago.  

It is the least the township residents should expect of their duly elected “leaders.”

Here’s the Excuse – “Regionalization”

Usually I wait a week or so before writing about the latest township council meeting, but not this time.  Frankly, I’m sick and tired of listening to these clowns lie to our faces about what’s going on with the library issue.

At tonight’s meeting, the library question was again not on the agenda.  Mrs. deLeon read into the minutes during her report time the revised letter from Ken Solt, the president of the HAL Board extending the offer to discuss an agreement until April 22.  The letter was sent on March 29.  It was not put on the agenda because, according to Banonis, there weren’t two Council members who wanted it there.  Mrs. deLeon then asked a very pertinent question.  How many of the other agenda items had been requested by two Council members?  Not the interim Township Manager.  He doesn’t count.  Not the township Financial Manager.  She doesn’t either.  Nor the Solicitor.  The rules that Council adopted on January 3, 2022, require the consent of two Council members for an item to be added to the agenda.  Answer from Banonis??  Crickets!!!

I think going forward, Council needs to be required to list the two Council members who have requested that an item be put on the agenda.  Every. Single. Agenda. Item.  If there aren’t two names, it’s not a legitimate agenda item and can’t be discussed or acted upon.  Thank you, Law of Unintended Consequences.  And remember, those rules require that the request for an agenda item be in writing.

Then in his report, Banonis read the same letter that Mayor Heintzelman read to the Hellertown Borough Council at their meeting regarding a meeting that was held on April 13 among Pastor Phil Spohn of Christ Lutheran, Ken Solt, Tom Rieger (President of Hellertown Borough Council), Mayor Heintzelman, Banonis and Zavacky (who conveniently was not at tonight’s council meeting, so she couldn’t answer any questions. I’m guessing she had more important things to do.). You can read it in its entirety in this Saucon Source article.  He then said he’d have nothing more to say on the matter – but of course he did.

The excuse for no immediate action on the library issue was – ta-da – regionalization. In further discussions among the Council members about why this item was not on the agenda, Carocci kept claiming that “they need more time to report” on regionalization and “we’re gonna wait till we hear back from them.” These statements can be found at time marks 1:12:07 and 1:13:46 in the recorded video of the meeting available on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.  Who are these “they,” kemo sabe?  Some magical, mystical group that’s going to be meeting and solving this problem?  No.  

Once again, we have to question Carocci’s reading abilities.  Read the letter carefully.  It states, “Lower Saucon Township expressed the idea of regionalizing library services with other communities. . . .This is a new concept being presented to both Hellertown Borough and the library.”  So clearly the concept of “regionalization” was presented as a stalling tactic by – surprise – the LST representatives who were at that meeting – Banonis and Zavacky.  Carocci was trying to imply that “they” were somehow not the people from LST.

The letter then says, “All parties agreed to take the concept back to their respective bodies, receive initial reactions and create conversations of thoughts and concerns, which will be used toward possible further discussions.”  Great idea.  But when questioned by Mrs. deLeon about why this is not on the agenda to be discussed? Again, crickets.  When she asked If it would be added to the April agenda for discussion, the response was the insane answer that Carocci gave at 1:12:07 – “they need more time to report”.  To report WHAT?  The Sunshine Act requires that the Council have discussions like this in public. If it’s not on the agenda, how can it be discussed?  If they’ve agreed to “take the concept back to their respective bodies, receive initial reactions and create conversations of thoughts and concerns,” how can that happen if it’s not on an agenda?  Are they going to hold small group discussions of less than 3 Council members at a time to try to avoid the Sunshine Act? Is this now a working group of Banonis, Zavacky, Rieger, Heintzelman, Solt and Spohn? When’s the next meeting scheduled for?  What’s the process?  What’s the timeline?

And if they’re going to work on “regionalization,” where is the Office of Commonwealth Libraries in this little dance?  You can’t just decide on your own to do “regionalization”.  Or how about this consideration that one of our residents brought up in the public comments?  What other library is going to have any interest in joining a regional pact that has anything to do with LST?  The whole Valley has watched this circus unfold. Our own neighbors don’t trust this clown car of Council members.  Why would any other sentient human or intelligent institution?

And here’s one more flat-out exaggeration from Banonis.  “We’ve discussed regionalization.” (time mark 1:13:25).  Yeah, if by the definition of “discuss” you mean the word fell out of his and Zavacky’s mouths once or twice during the January 19 shitshow.  

And the final pertinent question: while LST Council is taking its sweet old time to work out this whole “regionalization” idea (which according to the letter may or may not work out at all and which will certainly take a lot of time – think, years), why aren’t you negotiating an interim agreement to pay LST’s share for the library services it consumes?  If there’s no agreement by July 1, then HAL doesn’t include LST in its home territory when it applies for next year’s state funding and, come December 31, LST loses its current library services. No question about that.

Wake up.  We’re all being played. LST Council is dragging its feet to get as much free library service as possible, as long as possible, on Hellertown’s dime.  HAL is still under threat of a lawsuit if they cut off services to LST which, as best I can tell, they have every right to do. And they are operating on a sharply reduced budget which gives the lie to LST’s claim that they’re doing all this to “improve library services” for their constituents.  Hellertown’s footing the bill for 2022 HAL operations over and above what they should be paying for their size relative to LST.  And Bozo and his buddies are laughing at all of us, hoping we’ll give up on something they don’t want to provide anyway.

Don’t let it happen.  You have a voice.  Use it.

What’s the Excuse This Time?

Coming up on a Lower Saucon Township Council meeting next Wednesday, April 20, and once again there is no agenda item for negotiations or an agreement with the Hellertown Area Library.

No Action

We’re now 3½ months into 2022 and to date the Council has managed to avoid doing anything productive as far as the Library is concerned. In January following a specious recounting of the timeline of interactions between the Library, LST and Hellertown Borough by Banonis, the Council (minus Mrs. deLeon) voted to cut funding in half and refused to sign an agreement going forward, wanting to just “be a donor.” Not surprisingly, the Library turned that down but graciously allowed LST residents to still use the library’s facilities for another month.

In February, despite a request from Mrs. deLeon to put the Library on the agenda, the other four council people didn’t consider that important enough and so another month passed with no substantive action.  Of course, there was a report by Zavacky on the status at that meeting which was filled with gobbledygook and nonsense.

In March, the issue once again did not make the agenda despite a substantive proposal being provided by the Library to the Council which required no more than the Council agreeing in writing to negotiate a new agreement. Not SIGN an agreement, just NEGOTIATE one before July 1, 2022.  With a week to consider that, the Council still couldn’t come up with a decision. Council member Carocci could, however, again spew malarkey about how the Library was still considering taking the check from January (HINT:  they weren’t.  They voted that down at the public January 25 Library Board meeting but, hey, why let the truth hinder the spin?). 

The latest update is that weeks ahead of the April 20 council meeting, the Library has extended the deadline for the Council to agree to negotiate (again: negotiate NOT sign on to) a new agreement.  And has once again graciously agreed to continue to provide library services to the delinquent citizens of LST.  But still no item on the April 20 agenda.  In the past we’ve been falsely informed that you can’t put an item on the agenda unless there is action to be taken (that’s not true).  But now there is something to take action on – an invitation from the Library to negotiate a new agreement.  So why isn’t it on the agenda?  Here’s one hint:  if they put it on the agenda, they have to let the public comment on it at the beginning of the meeting.  Hmmm, that might mean more people would show up and comment.  Probably don’t want that.

What’s Behind All This Delay?

There’s been quite a lot of speculation about what is behind all of this library nonsense and why it’s taken so long to get it resolved.  After all, when the whole situation blew up in January, Hellertown Borough managed to resolve their portion of it in about 2 weeks.  Setting aside the conjecture that much of this is a result of personal animus, let’s look at the whole Library issue from a completely different perspective.  What if, in fact, the Council never did intend to sign the agreement with the Library and has no intention now of resolving the issue in favor of continuing library service to the LST residents.

Look at the facts in that light.  Discussions on the new 5-year agreement began almost a year ago, in Spring 2021.  They dragged on and on. Whenever Kristen Stauffer, the previous Council library liaison, would raise concerns or seek guidance on where the Township stood on budgetary issues, she would be belittled or ignored and no progress would be made.  Former Township Manager Leslie Huhn was in charge of working with the Hellertown Township Manager and Library personnel to work out the new agreement.  But somehow the usually capable Ms. Huhn couldn’t manage to get those 3 entities to work together or, supposedly, to respond to her, although we now have a more accurate timeline that indicates that probably wasn’t the case.  Of course, she’s now conveniently gone – resigned – so we can’t get her input on this.

Wouldn’t all that be very useful if you really didn’t want to sign a new agreement?  Hellertown Borough, seeing the December 31 renewal date coming up fast, responsibly took action to guarantee library services for its residents.  LST punted time and time again due to “concerns” and Solicitor Treadwell claimed he couldn’t share the concerns with the public. Then LST fashioned a guaranteed-to-be-rejected insulting solution of cutting support in half and signing no agreement.  Now, according to them, it became the Library’s fault that we’re in the situation we’re in.  And they changed the rules for putting an item on the agenda to guarantee that Mrs. deLeon, the only real library supporter, can’t get anything considered going forward.

So in January the four Council members spring the new 50% cut/no agreement motion on the public with no mention on the agenda of what the “library services discussion” would entail; in February Mrs. deLeon can’t get a second Council member to agree to put the item on the agenda because of the lies about “no action to be taken;” in March the excuse is that the request came on too short notice to put it on the agenda (another falsity since the Sunshine Act provides for last-minute and emergency additions to agendas) and Mrs. deLeon again cannot get a second to put it on the agenda although she reads it into the minutes, and now it’s April and it’s still not on the agenda.

What’s behind all of this?  Why not sit down and negotiate and work this out like reasonable people and elected public servants?  I have two ideas that may or may not be intertwined.

Idea #1 – Bullying Gone Bad

We’ve watched members of this Council over the past two years employ bullying tactics in the place of honest negotiation to get what they want.  The whole Steel City/LSFR merger issue comes most prominently to mind.  You just push and pressure and turn the screws until your opponent caves.  Other bullying tactics were employed in relation to the delay in approving the Covid bonuses for the police department until after their contract was agreed to. More subtle, perhaps, but arm-twisting no less.  And then, miraculously, there was another $500 per person available after they approved the contract, beyond what every non-police employee had gotten!

In the case of the Library, I think the groundwork was laid last February when Carocci began making noises about LST being disrespected by the Library and asking what we were getting for our money.  Did he do anything to actually find an answer to that question?  No, he just wanted to get the idea out there.  Typical Fox News tactics.  The approach all through 2021 was to ratchet up the pressure on the Library to get whatever terms it was LST Council wanted.  Of course, we don’t really know what those terms were because according to Treadwell, he couldn’t share any of that with us, but there were vague comments about “financial issues” and “concerns about management.” But nothing you could really check out.  Just insinuations.

Of course the assumption might have been that as the December 31 deadline approached that the Library, always short on funding and dependent on the support of the Borough and the Township, would just fold.  But then, two things happened.

Oops, Not What They Expected?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

First, Hellertown Borough threw a monkey wrench into all of that when, as good public servants do, they stepped up and signed the agreement on behalf of providing library services to their residents.  And then, when the December 31 date came and went and LST came up with its insulting “we just want to be donors” solution on January 19, the Board of HAL said thanks, but no thanks.  We’ll work this out another way.

All of that left the LST Council scrambling.  They have a constituency that clearly wants library services and they’ve backed themselves into a corner.  Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) has publicly stated they’re not interested.  Bethlehem doesn’t want them back. They now either have to negotiate honestly with HAL which most bullies would see as “losing” or they have to admit that they’re fine with LST residents having no library, something for which I would hope they would pay dearly at the ballot box. 

The analogies to Putin in Ukraine are ironic.  Someone badly miscalculates, executes incompetently, and has no viable Plan B.

Idea #2 – You’re Not Entitled to Library Services

One thing we’ve watched consistently from the ultra-right authoritarian playbook since the Reagan era and most explicitly over the last five years is the concept that it’s not the responsibility of government to provide services to the public that the entitled white people (usually male) in charge don’t feel they have a right to.  While this is often used in a racial context, it can just as well be a class issue.  We’ve heard some of this from people up on that rostrum in Town Hall with statements like, “nobody uses libraries anymore,” “you can just order the books you need from Amazon,” “only 30% of the residents use the Library,” and the observation that HAL is not as convenient for most LST residents as the SLPL (the implication being that the only people that count live in the southwest quadrant of the township).

In this explanation, LST Council is more than happy to steal services from HAL for as long as HAL (who are suckers in their opinion) is willing to supply them and then, when that ends, we’re all just out of luck.  Or perhaps we will have forgotten about it. It’s in this context that the threat of a lawsuit is useful.  The idea is that the Township has the funds to sue the “poor” library and so the Library will just kowtow to the township’s demands.  

Nowhere in this scenario is there any understanding of elected officials as public servants or as people who represent the entire township instead of just a precious few (probably those who can afford Amazon and contribute to their campaigns).   This is, to put it mildly, despicable.  It is also not, by any explanation, how a democracy is supposed to work.  

But How About Pickleball?

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Be aware that these condescending comments and rules only apply to those things that the elected Council members consider not of interest to them.  When it comes to pickleball, on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter how many people might use those courts if a Council member wants them. To that point, tell us, Zavacky, what were the results of the survey that you conducted to find out what percentage of residents might use those pickleball courts?  You did do that, right? Took a survey? Oh no?  Really?  Well, my guess is that when you do, there are going to be a lot less potential users than the 3,328 residents that would represent 30% of the most recent census numbers.  But then, you don’t care, do you?

As my friend Beau from the Fifth Column says, “It’s just a thought.”

Two more library things.  Saucon Source reported on March 28(!) via Ken Solt, President of the HAL Board, that the Township had sent the Library a check for $41,644.67, an amount which reflects a deduction for library services the township paid for in January as part of their agreement extension. Give it up. What part of “we turned your check down” don’t you get? It had been over 2 months since the Library voted not to take it.

Second, in the “for what it’s worth” department, if I were on the Board of HAL, I’d give the money back to the Commonwealth for the amount that covers LST and then close off all services to LST residents except for those that are available to any citizen of the Commonwealth, i.e. walk in the door, read the books/contents, leave.  No borrowing, no PA ACCESS cards, no meeting rooms, etc.  Or charge LST residents individually for use of the facilities.  

Stop letting LST Council take advantage of your kindness and stop letting them hide behind the ongoing services, hoping that no one will notice that nothing’s happening. When the services stop, a lot more residents will start complaining.

Here are a few other thoughts:

  • Back at the October 27 meeting, our new state representative Milou Mackenzie showed up to tell us all about how she’s here to help the residents of LST.  Well, Milou, where are you now?  Bob Freeman has been very visible in trying to facilitate discussions between the state’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries and HAL and Hellertown Borough.  Where are you?  What have you done?
  • A big shout-out to our interim Township Manager, Peter Marshall, for calling out the appalling state of whatever it is that passes for “minutes” of Township meetings.  Those multi-page abominations have nothing to do with the definition of minutes in Robert’s Rules of Order.  And if you want to argue that they’re transcriptions of the meetings, they’re virtually useless for that too because there’s no attempt to turn the transcriptions into understandable sentence structure.  There are incorrect words, misspelled words, run-on sentences with unclear attributions as to who is speaking.  Thank you for pointing out that whatever we’re paying for them is a giant waste of township money.  Please, get this man some chairs just for calling attention to that.
  • YOU NEED TO SHOW UP AGAIN AT THE APRIL 20 COUNCIL MEETING. ONCE AGAIN, YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT AROUND UNTIL THE END. BUT DON’T GIVE UP. THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE COUNTING ON!

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, April 20, 6:30 PM – Township Hall

As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.