As I was watching the Tennessee legislature’s attempt to destroy democracy by ousting two duly elected representatives for “decorum” violations, I agreed with the commentator who said that what they were really doing was not showing overly large concern over the events that had taken place in the legislature, but rather that they were “sending a message”. The message was that the Republican majority had no need to pay any attention to anything that either of those two representatives said or to anything that their now-unrepresented constituencies needed.
To put it bluntly the message was “Sit down. Shut up. We don’t have to listen to you.”
To those of us who have been watching the behavior of the Lower Saucon Township council since at least January 2022, those words and that message should sound very familiar. That’s what we have been hearing over and over and over again. “Sit down. Shut up. We don’t have to listen to you.”
Let’s go back and look at that dog’s breakfast of a public comment policy that Banonis shoved down our throats the minute he was elected Council president. This would be Resolution #31-2022, adopted 3 January 2022. It was slightly revised and replaced by Resolution #31-2023, adopted 3 January 2023. The only amendment was to remove the requirement that residents who wish to comment must state their full address before commenting. The courts ruled that was illegal. It took more than a few months for our council to revise that. [Note to residents: If you’re still announcing your address when you speak, you don’t have to do it. If you choose to, that’s up to you.]
If you read all the “Whereas” paragraphs in the Resolution you’ll notice such piffle as “the Council is strong [sic] advocate of free speech and wishes to promote an atmosphere of reasoned expression of ideas” and “the Council recognizes public comment is intended to afford citizens an opportunity to bring important matters to the attention of Lower Saucon Township Council” but what you WON’T find is any statement that the Council has a responsibility to actually listen to and consider what you have to say. In fact, while you have the right to bring matters to the attention of the Council, they don’t have to pay attention to you at all, especially when they’re fiddling with their phones.
Back in 2014, the last time they revised the Code of Conduct (Resolution #32-2014, adopted 19 February 2014), these were all the lines devoted to behavior at the meetings:
6. The President of Council shall preside over all periods of public comment and shall:
C. Rule “out of order” any scandalous, impertinent, or redundant comment or any comment the discernible purpose of which is to disrupt or prevent the conduct of business of the meeting.
That was it. That was all that was necessary in 2014. In the new 2023 resolution, there are now 26 specific items dealing with the behavior of the public at meetings. There are exactly ZERO items dealing with the behavior of the Council members at meetings. Here’s an interesting one:
“21. Any conduct disruptive of the Township . . . and/or the use of a cell phone shall not be tolerated.”
Why doesn’t it say that applies to Council members also?
Or this one:
“22. The Council President . . . will rule out of order any speaker or comment which is defamatory, contentious, scandalous, impertinent, redundant or disruptive to the proceedings of the meeting.”
I’d love to see a definition of each of those terms. And where does it say that Council members won’t make any such comments? Because they do. Often. Banonis is particularly redundant, droning on and on whenever it suits his purpose.
“26. The purpose of Public Comment . . . Council will not respond to comment made during the public portion of the meeting unless it is necessary to ask a clarifying question, correct a factual error, or provide specific information. . .”
Anyone who was at the April 4 Special Council meeting knows that Council members, in particular Carocci that night, just interrupt whenever they feel like it, in his case getting louder and more belligerent as the public comment period wore on.
Bottom line, they demand behaviors from the public that they don’t observe themselves. They are arrogant and condescending in their remarks. Does everyone from the public get a chance to speak? Oh yes, Banonis goes out of his way to make a big display of allowing everyone to speak but don’t ever walk away from the podium till you’re sure they’re not going to attack you or your position because if you walk away and they attack, you can’t reply.
Then there are the snotty comments in calling the names of people to speak. At the April 4 meeting, Banonis called “Victoria O period C period,” pretending not to know who that was and saying that he was only reading what was on the sign-in sheet. I find it amazing that he doesn’t recognize the name of one of the people who is currently running for Council and who ran against him last time. You remember that time – that’s when the slate of 3 Republicans sued the slate of 3 Democrats in an attempt to basically impose prior restraint on their speech while they were actively campaigning. We have a First Amendment that says you can’t do that and the Court – rightly – tossed the lawsuit. At a previous Council meeting – I believe it was March 22 – he mispronounced Victoria’s name. Not, I suspect, an accident.
Also at the zoning hearing held on March 22 during a regular Council meeting, he called on Kathy Pichel McGovern to speak. But he garbled her name and she corrected him. When she then was on the list to speak after the meeting in the non-agenda comment period, he managed to get her name right but when someone said she wasn’t there, his comment was, “She’s not interested. She left.” In case you don’t know, Ms. McGovern is running against Yerger and Inglis on the Republican ticket for Council. So he thought he’d get a little dig in, although he has no problem lecturing other candidates not to his liking on their “politicking” in their comments.
I won’t waste your time recounting all the times he or Carocci have tried to tell Mrs. deLeon that she isn’t allowed to speak. Say what? Where exactly is the rule that says that a Councilperson can’t comment on business before the Council? Meetings of functional municipal councils often feature lively discussions of the pros and cons of various issues. Not here. You speak when Banonis tells you that you can.
Misinformation, Disinformation, and Just Plain Lies
Reporting on relations with either of the libraries – HAL or SLPL – is now so distorted that it’s a good thing I’ve been keeping track of what’s really said. You can find most of the corrections in my blog of April 3, 2023. Suffice it to say that at the April 4 meeting we were again treated to the fanciful notion that HAL kicked us out of the library and that they denied us Board seats when in fact all of that was a result of either a request from the LST Council (removing LST from HAL) or by LST’s refusal to sign a new agreement with HAL. Nobody gets a Board seat if you don’t sign an agreement and pay your fair share.
We’ve been told that the new yard waste center won’t cost anything. Good thing Banonis is a lawyer and not a finance person or he’d have no career at all. Someone needs to give him a short course in accounting. And then I’d like to know where we store the excess pile of asphalt that we got for free to use in the new waste center. And of course that free compost that you used to get before isn’t available but this Council doesn’t care because that’s a loss out of your pocket, not out of the Township’s budget.
How Many More Times Will We Be Ignored?
Let’s consider over a year’s worth of the Council ignoring the residents who come to either comment or actually testify at Council meetings and zoning hearings.
Carocci dazzled us with his counting abilities at the April 4 meeting when he reported that 55 people were at the meeting. He knew because he had counted them all by himself. The implication was that that wasn’t very many people to show up in opposition to the SLPL issue. But let’s consider how many hundreds of residents (I know, because I can count too, up to much higher numbers) have attended meetings since January 2022 to speak about the library issue, the various zoning issues, the landfill expansion, the lack of two-way livestreaming of Council meetings, the relationship with Hellertown, the loss of the yard waste center and other issues. Every single one of those residents has been roundly ignored.
A functional, healthy municipal Council would consider the input from their taxpayers before making a decision. Not here. At many meetings, because the comments are only allowed before an issue is discussed, it’s difficult for residents to know how to focus their remarks. Even when there is a presentation before public comment, there is a miniscule amount of time and very little discussion between the end of public comments and the vote (always in favor) on the issue.
Couple of examples: at the April 4 meeting, Dave Willard, a former township councilperson, suggested that one idea the Council could consider might be to make the same offer to both HAL and SLPL for a long-term agreement and see which one would be most interested or amenable to LST’s terms. *Crickets* Then Rev. Spohn suggested that he would be willing to mediate another round of discussion about the library issue and the relationship with Hellertown. *Crickets* At the zoning hearing on March 22, a resident who would be impacted by the zoning change to Light Industrial along Easton Rd. suggested that perhaps a General Business zoning would be a better choice. No more warehouses. It could include small businesses and reduce the impact on the value of those who have homes in that area. Again – *Crickets*
Any of those suggestions were worth tabling the issue until there could be more discussion or research on the possibilities. Fuggedaboudit! Don’t you know there’s an election coming up and the current Council is desparate to look like they’re doing something constructive? So it doesn’t matter that this is not what the residents want. It’s damn well what they’re going to get.
This is just a small portion of all the dysfunction that pollutes this Township. Even little stuff like – why aren’t there minutes from the April 4 meeting available to approve at the April 19 meeting? Granted the minutes usually suck but any decent transcriptionist shouldn’t take 10 days to prepare them. Why is the April 19 meeting only available on YouTube which means it won’t be two-way communication? You can watch, but you can’t participate. This Council turned down a $17,000 estimate on a two-way system and purchased a $40,000 system instead and it’s still not two-way? And by the way, those new microphones aren’t much better than the old ones.
According to Banonis on page 11 of the August 17, 2022, minutes, “We are a first-rate Township and we want to have first rate people working here.” Not even close, buddy.
So what can we do as residents? I know that most of my readers are aware that there is a primary election coming up in May and a general election in November. You can exercise your right to vote out those who think this is a good way to run a township. I’ll have more to say on that closer to the elections.
But you don’t have to just take all this guff in the meantime. Here are a few suggestions:
*1. If you haven’t already, send emails to the SLPL Board members explaining why you would prefer to partner with HAL. Do it before Tuesday. If you have other information about what’s been going on here, you might share that too. We all know that they are dedicated volunteers who have been pummeled and pressured not only by our Council but by their funding municipalities, especially Upper Saucon Township and the Southern Lehigh School District. Let them know you understand and support them. Here are the email addresses for the SLPL Board.
Bruce Eames firstname.lastname@example.org
Candi Kruse email@example.com
Kat Moyer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathie Parsons email@example.com
John Schubert firstname.lastname@example.org
*2. There is an SLPL Board meeting on Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30 PM at the library. Be there if you possibly can. Treadwell has sent them a letter with the outlined agreement that follows mostly the outlines discussed at the April 4 LST meeting. LST is trying to shove this down SLPL’s throat. This will be the last regular meeting of the SLPL Board before the May 4 date that LST demands for SLPL to make a decision. Of course, the LST Council ignores deadlines whenever they feel like it, but so far I’ve observed that the SLPL Board is more responsible.
*3. At past SLPL Board meetings, they have allowed visitors to speak about agenda items. I don’t know if they’ll do that this time, but come prepared to speak about why this is not a good idea for either us or them.
*4. Keep coming to LST Council meetings no matter how unpleasant they are. Keep commenting on both agenda and non-agenda items. They’ll ignore you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t speak. Sometimes when you get people riled, they say the wrong things. Keep listening carefully.
*5. Keep an eye on what they’re doing with our money. On what planet is it acceptable to take $250,000 (that’s a quarter of a million dollars) and give it to a library that’s not even in our county so that their current funding partners can get off the hook for some of their costs. Because you know that’s why there’s so much pressure. The Southern Lehigh School District and Upper Saucon Township in particular see this as a gold mine so they can reduce their contributions. Is that what the federal government expected us to do with the Covid money (ARP) that they gave us? What else could we be doing with that kind of money that the majority of residents might actually be happy about?
*6. And while you’re watching the money, don’t forget to question everything about the landfill.
*7. Finally, start listening carefully now to what the various candidates for Council are saying. Ask questions. And whatever you do, don’t just vote based on a party label. You’re smarter than that.
See you Tuesday and Wednesday. And just to be sure you really can watch the LST Council meeting on Wednesday, I’ll be prepared to livestream on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page in case there are any unexpected “technical glitches”.
NEXT COUNCIL MEETING: WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 6:30 PM TOWN HALL
DAYS WITHOUT FULL LIBRARY SERVICES: 106
DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY ELECTION: 30
DAYS UNTIL GENERAL ELECTION: 205