What You See and What You Don’t

The May 18 meeting of the Lower Saucon Township Council looked pretty straightforward.  A couple of resolutions, a few business items and then the issue that most people were interested in – “Discussion on Library Services.”

Before we go any further, can we take a moment to discuss how deliberately suppressive the comment policy is?  Residents and taxpayers of the township (no one else) can each speak for 3, count ‘em, 3, minutes on an agenda item before the meeting really gets underway.  The total information provided for the item “Discussion on Library Services” is exactly that, the title.  No supporting documentation.  No wording of a motion that might be introduced.  Nothing.  

Let’s look at what the Office of Open Records says about what should be included in agenda items:  “The agenda should include all issues to be deliberated on and any planned official action, such as votes.”  As you’ll see, there was definitely a planned official action to be voted on.  Banonis didn’t just make it up off the top of his head.  But there was no hint of that in the agenda.

The OOR goes on to clarify further, based on the findings in the case Reading Eagle Co. v. Council, 156 Pa. Commw. 412, 416-17 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 1993) – “It is advisable to use the same standard for agendas, whereby the description of the agenda item must be ‘of sufficient specificity to inform…that there is, in reality, a specific, discrete matter or area which the board has determined should be discussed (deliberated and/or decided by official action).’ In sum, avoid general cryptic terms and provide as many specific concrete details as possible.

But there was no indication that there would be a motion to basically remove the township from consideration as a “direct service area” from the Hellertown Area Library’s application for state funding for 2023, thereby ending the township’s relationship with HAL and its residents’ access to the Library’s services AND the PA Access system.  If there had been, informed residents could have commented on that proposed motion.  But informed comment is not what this Council is looking for.

To boil it down, the Council wants out of any agreement with HAL for 2023 but expects HAL to continue to provide services through the end of 2022.  They want to give HAL the $50,000 that they’ve been trying to push on them since January and which HAL has twice refused (don’t you just love men who can’t take “no” for an answer?) as well as $32,000 which they calculate as the amount of State money that HAL would get for 2023 if they did include LST in their “direct service area.”  Boy, is that big of them. But they’re going to give them that $32,000 in 2022, not 2023.  And at that point they then wash their hands of any relationship with HAL and if you want library services you are, in very crude terms, SOOL.

It’s so great to live in a township where the council members really care about their residents.  No books for Ms. Kozo’s 10-year-old daughter and no support for Ms. Socha’s grandson who overcame his speech disorder thanks to the help he received from the library personel. No library services for the young man who addressed the Council in January explaining how much he loved the library.  Plus the literally thousands of other residents who are members of the Library.  We don’t need it.  Nobody uses the library anymore – just ask our solicitor.

The excuse for all this was, of course, that both HAL and Hellertown Borough turned down any further discussion of “regionalization.”  In Banonis’ words they turned down the “regionalization proposal” but of course there was no actual proposal, no outline of how to move forward, no suggestion of how this might have been accomplished.  In words we’ve heard a lot recently, there was no there, there.  It was smoke and mirrors to make us think they were actually doing something when in fact they were doing nothing.

Or were they doing nothing?

Turns out, they’ve been up to quite a bit that they haven’t bothered to share with the residents.

Thanks to a Southern Lehigh School Board meeting that was held on Monday evening, June 13, we now know quite a bit about what they’ve been up to.  On May 12, someone from LST wrote a check to Southern Lehigh Public Library for $50,000.  The previous check for $50,000 written to SLPL on January 20 that had been rejected by the Library was voided a couple of months ago.  The new check was presented for the Helping Hands Campaign, an annual fundraiser of the library.  Considering that the top level of giving for the campaign is $10,000 and that for every $50 you give, you get your name on a bookplate, there are going to be a hell of a lot of bookplates for LST in that library.

The Southern Lehigh Public Library has not, however, accepted the check or cashed it.  It is apparently still under consideration.  In the past, the Library rejected the pressure to take LST’s money. However, the business manager of the school board, when questioned as to whether the check came with any strings attached, reported that our very own solicitor, Mr. Treadwell, had confirmed in writing that there was no expectation of any kind of services for the donation.  Hmmm. 

All of this came as part of a report to the Southern Lehigh School Board about a meeting that was held that included all of the donor municipalities to the Library – Upper Saucon, Upper Milford, and Coopersburg – as well as the school board business manager, the state representative for the district, and – ready? – a couple of LST people.  Of course, not enough to create a quorum or they’d have to tell you they were at the meeting.  But it definitely included Carocci and, as best I can tell from the rather bad audio on the meeting tape, Treadwell.

Why did this come up at the school board meeting? Because the school board is considering its budget for next year and hey, if LST’s gonna come up with $50k for the Library, why we could just reduce our support for the library by that much.  The school district currently provides $71,000 per year to SLPL. 

So connect the dots.  We now have LST council people trying to push their way into the Southern Lehigh Public Library, where they’ve been told once they’re not wanted (remember those men who can’t take “no” for an answer?), which the Southern Lehigh School Board now sees as a way to reduce their contribution to the Library to ease their budgetary shortfall which means they have an incentive to pressure the Library to take the money.  In short, if the Southern Lehigh School Board takes that route, LST taxpayer money will effectively be underwriting the budget of the Southern Lehigh School District. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I pay my taxes for.

There’s more – so much more – but that’s enough for one blog.  There’s a Council meeting tomorrow night.  The library (any library) is not on the agenda but you could still show up and tell them what you think.

I’ll have another issue out soon.

Oh, and Zavacky quit.  ‘Bye, Felicia!

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, June 15, 6:30 PM – Township Hall

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

DAYS TILL WE LOSE LIBRARY SERVICES: 199

DAYS TILL THE NEXT LOCAL GENERAL ELECTION: 510