One of the perks of having a platform like Saucon Shenanigans is that I can share with you the voices of others in the township. That’s what I’d like to do today.
I know that many of you have written to the township council expressing your feelings about various issues, most notably the library and the landfill. And I know that in their arrogance, four of the five council members – Mrs. deLeon excepted – feel they have no responsibility to reply to you. Or if they do, it’s in a belittling and sarcastic voice. Some of the responses from Banonis at the end of December to inquiries about the status of library services were nothing short of derisive and disrespectful.
In addition, those letters are never shared with us as residents. It’s too bad, because some of them are cogent, forceful and on-point. I’d like to share one of those with you. Dean Shaffer, a township resident, sent this email to township council on December 29, 2022. He has given me permission to share it with you. To my knowledge, he has not received any kind of a substantive response from the 4 council members or the township manager. Mrs. deLeon was cc:’d on his email because, as you can tell from the text, it was not directed at her.
I could write about all of the points that Dean covers, but he does such a good job of boiling them down to the essentials, that I think his words speak quite eloquently for all of us. And with that, I give Mr. Shaffer the floor.
I’ll keep this short so I don’t use much of your time
Four issues you need to resolve now:
1. Work in a collegial and professional manner with Hellertown’s leaders to repair fractured relationships and restore collaborative agreements!!!
2. Resolve the landfill expansion issue by working closely with its neighbors and limiting the amount of expansion. We have no desire to drown in everyone else’s garbage. Yes, the township and its leaders make lots of money from the landfill, but at what cost to residents?
3. Reestablish the compost center agreement with Hellertown. The location is convenient, and the facility is well run.
4. Above all, reestablish an agreement with the Hellertown Area Library. HAL is the library the majority of residents want to use. It’s convenient, and its programs are outstanding. It’s obvious that money isn’t an issue for the township – it appears to be simply a matter of headstrong township leaders trying to retaliate for some perceived wrong by Hellertown. Stop the shenanigans and start working for the residents of the township!
I am sure that working at the behest of the landfill’s management is much more lucrative than working for your constituents, but I really think it’s time that you start listening to the people who elected you!
Stop trying everything in your power to disrupt relationships with Hellertown, and start working for the people of Lower Saucon Township.
I’m truly embarrassed by the way you are behaving as elected leaders, and the way your actions reflect so negatively on the residents of the township. You make the township simply look silly to outsiders.
By the way, the meeting rules you’ve implemented so you don’t have to listen to resident concerns are outlandish. You make it clear you don’t wish to listen to anyone’s viewpoint other than your own.
If my perceptions are incorrect, please let me know. From my point-of-view, it certainly looks like you are behaving badly simply out of spite. Stop it!
P.S. If you’re struggling to figure out how to work with and for the residents of the township (i.e., being effective and caring leaders), follow Priscilla’s lead. It’s obvious she cares deeply about the township and its residents; she is a model leader. Try some of what she is doing.
Most sincerely, Dean Shaffer
Thank you, Dean. And thank you to all the township residents who have voiced your opinions about the damage and destruction that this council leadership has rained down on us in 2022. 2023 doesn’t look much more promising. So keep those cards and letters coming in. If nothing else, it will annoy the hell out of them until we can vote enough of them out in November so that Banonis loses control.
I know many of my readers are probably very disappointed that because of the length of the Council meeting on December 21 they didn’t get to hear Banonis’ self-serving year-end wrap-up like the one he subjected us to last year. In order to fill in that tragic gap, I’m happy to provide a review of Lower Saucon Township’s annus horribilis (horrible year, in the words of the late Queen Elizabeth II). The short version is in the Scorecard. The detailed version of the year follows that.
The 2022 Scorecard
January 1, 2022
Full library services at HAL
275.7 acres of beautifully forested land surrounding the landfill
Free access to the Yard Waste Center
Reduced membership prices at the Hellertown Pool
A wobbly reputation within the Lehigh Valley and deteriorating relations with Hellertown
January 1, 2023
No library services at HAL
275.7 acres of beautifully forested land under direct threat to be clearcut and turned into landfill
No access to the Yard Waste Center
A tortured system to be reimbursed for pool memberships
A laughingstock within the Lehigh Valley and no relationship with Hellertown
2022 In Detail
Ah yes! Back when the year was young and full of promise and we were all so full of hope! Who am I kidding? The storm clouds were already on the horizon, even before the Jan. 3 organizational meeting.
In a brilliant move to promote opportunities for constituent input, the Council passes (4-1) Resolution #31-2022 – Revision of Agenda Policy and Code of Conduct for Council Meetings, boxing residents and taxpayers ONLY into a 3-minute limit on comments on agenda items before the meeting and non-agenda items after the meeting.
Now firmly muzzled, residents watch in horror (including on the livestream provided by Saucon Shenanigans) at the next meeting on Jan. 19 as Council votes (4-1) to offer the Hellertown Area Library less than ½ of the requested amount while it refuses to sign a new agreement for library services. Newbie Zavacky offers the lame explanation that we will now just be “donors” and we’ll donate the other half of the budgeted amount to Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL). Why? Damned if I know even after a year of persiflage. And as icing on the cake, they vote (4-1) to authorize the solicitor to sue HAL if they refuse service to LST residents.
In a surprise move the following week, HAL refuses the $50,000 check. Hellertown, now faced with being a signatory to a tripartite agreement without the third party’s buy-in, renegotiates a bilateral agreement with HAL. And so it begins.
And then the township manager resigns.
HAL revises its by-laws based on the new bilateral agreement with Hellertown Borough and removes all LST board members. Hellertown Borough suspends all Intergovernmental Committee and Partnership participation by the borough with LST pending further review of the resolution of the library issue.
Ms. Huhn’s 20 years of service to the township is given less time and notice than a Boy Scout who built a kiosk.
Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky make a big deal about turning down their councilperson pay reminding us all once again that you get what you pay for.
LST doesn’t even put the library issue on the agenda.
HAL offers a substantive proposal to negotiate a new agreement.
LST doesn’t even put the library issue on the agenda.
HAL extends the deadline to begin negotiations on a new agreement.
Pastor Spohn tries to broker a solution. Banonis and Zavacky introduce the “regionalization” red herring, then do nothing publicly visible to pursue it.
LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.
On May 12, Cathy Forman writes a check to SLPL for $50,000 to replace the check that had been written in January and never cashed. This is not mentioned at any Council meeting. SLPL holds the check while they are pressured by the Southern Lehigh School Board and Upper Saucon Township to accept it.
From the Council minutes, May 18: “Mr. Banonis moved to direct our Solicitor to issue a letter to the HAL, directing the library to not include LST’s population in its application to the Office of Commonwealth of Libraries (OCL) for State Funding for calendar year 2023 and also issue a letter to the OCL advising it that it should not include LST’s population in its calculations for the formulation of State Funding for 2023.” Motion passed 3-1. deLeon, No; Zavacky, Absent. Remember this when we get to the end of December.
Mark Inglis is appointed to replace Zavacky. We are not informed who else applied for the position or why Inglis was chosen. Still don’t know, except that he’s related to Zavacky by marriage.
LST Council tries to muscle its way into the Saucon Valley School Board’s business to get them to hire a School Resource Officer despite having been told that they should stay in their lane.
Laura Ray’s repeated request for a citizen’s forum as provided for in the administrative code is finally placed on the agenda. The forum is scheduled for Nov. 23. Mrs. deLeon objects that that is not a regularly scheduled meeting night but rather the night before Thanksgiving. Banonis rudely informs her that she’s wrong and it doesn’t have to be on a regularly scheduled meeting night. In fact, he’s wrong and the meeting has to be rescheduled.
LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.
Hellertown Borough votes on July 5 to sever its ties with LST relative to the Saucon Valley Partnership, the community pool and the yard waste center effective December 31.
LST abruptly cancels its regular meeting on July 20 and schedules a “special meeting” on Friday, July 22 at 9:30 AM severely limiting the number of residents who can attend. They hire a new township manager, Mark Hudson, at a 22.7% increase over the budgeted salary for the township manager. No information is available on him. Council also approves a bid for the paving of Saucon Terrace for $1,070,793 which as far as I can tell had not been specifically budgeted but Banonis informs us that’s okay because we’re running a surplus. Remember this when they tell you about how we can’t live without the landfill.
SLPL Board accepts “with serious trepidation” the $50,000 check from LST but only after receiving a letter from Treadwell stating that “the donation is unconditional, and was made in appreciation of the services provided by the Southern Lehigh Library to Township residents over the past 10 years.” In the words of SLPL Board President Bruce Eames “its [Lower Saucon’s] residents will not benefit from the donation, except to the extent they use the SLPL through the Access Pennsylvania program.”
LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.
On his way out the door, Interim Township Manager Peter Marshall finds multiple ways for the township to spend money on new software, new job titles, raises, compensation studies, etc., all of which get approved even though budgeting season is coming up in 6 weeks.
LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.
At the Oct. 5 draft budget meeting, from the minutes, Cathy Gorman reported, “We have made those budget transfers during the year to accommodate some of the additional expenses we have received. Those came from our fund balance and she’s projecting that the fund balance, without using the landfill funds [emphasis added], should be adequate.” Council, by consensus but without Mrs. deLeon’s agreement and with no rational explanation, tells Gorman to increase the budget item for library services for 2023 from $100,000 to $160,000.
And then along comes the real stunner. Here comes Bethlehem Landfill asking for zoning changes and text amendments to more than double the size of the landfill. Next time any of the landfill cheerleaders on Council claim this doesn’t mean a landfill expansion, read them this: [from the October 19 minutes:] “Mr. Lawson said the request for zoning map and text amendment is the first step towards an expansion for BLC.”
When I started Saucon Shenanigans, I said there would be 3 guiding principles. One of them was “Follow the money.” It’s been a long, winding road, but it’s finally clear where it leads.
From here to the end of the year, things get really ugly, really fast.
On Friday, November 11, the agenda for the Nov. 16 meeting announces the Citizens’ Forum which we had been requesting since before June will be held that night, Nov. 16 at 5:50 PM. Five days’ notice after a six month wait. Even so, a decent sized crowd shows up but in a supreme act of arrogance, neither Banonis nor Carocci do. There are some lame excuses but then, all of a sudden, they’re magically there in time for the Council meeting at 6:30, putting to bed the belief that they care at all about what the residents of LST think. Yerger, Inglis and Mrs. deLeon are there but Yerger and Inglis are virtually mute the whole time. Mrs. deLeon answers questions but frankly, we all know what she supports and believes in so there aren’t many questions directed to her.
Treadwell, however, after neglecting to introduce himself (which triggers a question by one resident, “Just exactly who are you?”), answers the majority of questions with the equivalent of “I don’t know” or “Not my job.” What’s going on with the library? We’re working on it. What’s going on with the zoning? There’s a hearing scheduled. Why haven’t you told us anything about the library? I’m just the solicitor. What do we do at the end of the year? The council has to decide. Mark Hudson, the township manager, hides behind the classic, “I’m new here. I really don’t know.”
Well, who the hell is running this township then?
During the actual council meeting (now with Banonis and Carocci in attendance) here come the Bethlehem Landfill people to gaslight us on how they’re going to provide all kinds of conservation easements to make everything pretty and safe. Wonder why those easements would have any more strength than the current ones you’re going to run roughshod over now? An additional Council meeting needs to be added on December 21 to accommodate advertising, etc. for a public hearing on the zoning changes and text amendments. It also conveniently puts it only 4 days before Christmas in a pretty blatant attempt to reduce the number of residents who might come and testify. Keep in mind, there is no time clock ticking on this. It could have been considered in January or February or March. But then, more people might have shown up.
There’s no discussion of the library nor is it on the agenda.
Then, the following Monday, who should turn up on the Southern Lehigh School Board’s meeting agenda than none other but our own dear solicitor to explain all about what’s going on with LST’s quixotic search for someone to give them some library love. We heard all about a library-type authority in western PA that was the holy grail of how we should organize all of our library system and how this is what he was proposing for the supporting municipalities and school district of SLPL and LST (of course, Hellertown’s not invited nor is the Saucon Valley School District). And while the underlying idea is actually an interesting one to consider, its development and implementation would take years, possibly legislative action, and the kind of public education, consensus-building, and communication and collaboration skills that frankly this collection of bozos can’t even begin to understand how to put together. But at least we know how to get an answer to what’s going on in our township. Pay our solicitor $220/hour, send him across county lines and let him babble on to a school board that isn’t connected to the school district in our own township. Perfect.
At the December 7 meeting, Banonis takes aim again at Hellertown, this time over the yard waste center. He wants to send a letter to DEP to tell them that LST is no longer a part of the yard waste center and therefore not part of the permit. Because of that, he wants DEP to cancel the permit. Of course, he hasn’t bothered to check and see that LST was NEVER a part of the DEP permit. Treadwell doesn’t know (he should). And they’re too arrogant to listen to members of the audience who tell them they’re not part of the permit. I bet DEP laughed themselves silly over that.
Next up comes a threat that the zoning officer needs to see if the yard waste center is zoned for that use and if not, send a cease-and-desist order to Hellertown. Explain to me how, when you’ve been using the land yourself as a yard waste center for a couple of decades(?), you can suddenly claim it’s not a proper land use. They actually follow through on that moronic plan, creating more good feeling between neighbors just like they’ve been doing all year.
Then, despite all their best efforts, the December 21 public hearing amazingly draws, by your writer’s count, 139 people. Of that, between 75 and 80 speak, all except the final one – an engineer for Bethlehem Landfill – in opposition to the zoning changes, the text amendments, the expansion of the landfill, the scheduling of the meeting 4 days before Christmas and sharing the perception that it’s a done deal and nothing they say matters.
Sure enough, it doesn’t. The 4-part resolution passes (3-2, deLeon and Yerger-No).
If you find Yerger’s “no” vote surprising, don’t. Keep these facts in mind – she’s up for re-election in November and Banonis knew he had enough votes to pass the resolution without her vote, so she could vote “no” and he still wins. When she tries to campaign on “I opposed the landfill expansion” in November, remember all the 4-1 votes on the library and the landfill and almost every other issue up until that night. It was a pure political play.
At the tail end of the meeting they approve $40,000 more or less to buy and install a two-way live-streaming A-V system to cover future meetings. Of course, it will take 3 months to get it installed. For those keeping track, that will be about 21 months since the Council went back to in-person meetings and was asked to provide some kind of streaming service and 15 months since Saucon Shenanigans started live-streaming meetings as a public service. Good work.
Then, as the year ends, the PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries confirms what we all knew was going to happen – and what the LST Council had itself requested back in May – that HAL has the right to no longer provide service as a “home library” to LST residents effective 1/1/23. And with that, we are deprived of a library. The township provides little to no information on where you might find other library services, at least in part because there are no other places to find library services that include the PA Access program. That’s because if your township doesn’t identify and support a “home library,” you can’t participate. Simple as that and what we’ve all been explaining since last January.
Their solution? It’s the same as their solution to everything – sue. Waste more of your tax dollars to fix the things that they broke. To date they have spent $63,345.61 on this idiocy, not including charges for December. Plus the $50,000 given, no strings attached, to a library in a different county for services we were already able to access for free. Is that how you wanted your tax dollars spent?
You can change this. Election Day is November 7. You have the power. Use it.
NEXT COUNCIL MEETING: TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 6:30 PM. ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING
As a service to the community, the January 3 Council meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page. Thank you to Laura Ray for her service.
I’m a bit behind here at Saucon Shenanigans but this can’t wait. Put this on your calendar and show up on Wednesday!
Here’s the backstory and, like all things run by this township council, it’s more than a bit sleazy.
Resident Laura Ray identified many months ago that our township rules provide the opportunity for residents to request a “citizens’ forum or town hall” – 30 minutes of time allotted to residents BEFORE A REGULARLY SCHEDULED COUNCIL MEETING – to address the council members on any issues of concern to the residents. She repeatedly requested that such a meeting be scheduled. She sent emails. She made a request during public comments. She was ignored. Completely.
Finally, after far more of this delay than was acceptable, Banonis announced sometime in the summer that a town hall would be held on Wednesday, November 23, the night before Thanksgiving. Only one problem. That wasn’t a regularly scheduled council meeting night. It was, however, a wildly inconvenient night for anyone to have to show up. Ms. Ray objected and demanded that the date be changed to abide by the township requirement that it be on a regularly scheduled council meeting night.
She was told it would have to wait until the new township manager was hired. Because, you know, it’s too hard for a council to figure out a meeting date all by their little selves.
Nothing happened. Mark Hudson started on August 22 but apparently changing a date is such a heavy lift that it wasn’t accomplished until Friday, November 11, at which point it was rescheduled to Wednesday, November 16, at 5:50 PM. It’s quite clear the purpose was to make it as short notice and inconvenient as possible to reduce attendance.
Don’t let the clowns get away with it! Spread the word NOW to everyone you know! Pack the township meeting hall!
The rules only require them to provide 30 minutes but “additional time may be designated at the discretion of the Council.” (don’t hold your breath) The regulations also state that “on a regular basis, time shall be provided for a citizens’ forum or town meeting.” Maybe we’d better get the next one on the calendar now.
ALSO COMING UP QUICKLY
Those lovely landfill people have decided they just can’t function without another 275.7 acres of land AND they need to have the space re-designated from a Special Exception to a Conditional Use in order for it to work. That’s step one. Step two is to then re-zone all of those parcels from Rural Agricultural to Light Industrial. Since they will have already gotten the change from Special Exception to Conditional Use, it will be SO much easier for them to get the change from Rural Agricultural to Light Industrial because the change to a conditional use can be done by the township council and doesn’t have to go through that fussy Zoning Board. And in order to make it even more helpful, they’ve bundled them all together into one request.
Luckily for those of us who live in this township and care about its future, there’s one other small stop before they can get what they want which is the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. And LVPC doesn’t seem too excited about the landfill plans. In fact, they think the plans kind of suck.
There are two meetings about the proposals this week which are accessible via Zoom or in person – Tuesday, November 15 at noon and Thursday, November 17 at 7 PM. If you have the time, it would be very helpful if you would read the LVPC’s position on the request and attend one or both of the meetings.
You can find all of the information on the two meetings on the LVPC site here.
A copy of the LVPC letter is also available on Mrs. DeLeon’s Facebook page. You could probably find some points in there that resonate with your own views as well.
Here’s the link for the November 15 meeting at noon or via 610-477-5793, Conference ID: 351 407 936#.
Here’s the link for the November 17 meeting at 7 PM or via 610-477-5793, Conference ID: 793 745 456#.
And gee, I haven’t even gotten to the latest on the library.
Next time. Although if you’re at the regular township meeting on Wednesday, you might want to ask them in the public comment period before the regular council meeting (don’t waste the time in the citizens’ forum) why they need to budget $160,000 for the library account next year which is $60,000 more than they budgeted this year and balked at, $102,000 more than they actually spent this year, and superfluous considering they’ve been informed they won’t have any library services in 2023 from Hellertown, and Southern Lehigh has suggested they’re not interested either. That’s a hell of a lot of $40 reimbursements that Carocci’s going to pay for township residents who have to go elsewhere.
At its July 5 meeting, Hellertown Borough (HB) Council voted to sever its ties with Lower Saucon Township relative to the Saucon Valley Partnership, the community pool and the compost center, effective December 31, 2022. Letters to that effect were sent to LST dated July 19, 2022. (see below)
The 3 unanimous votes came after six months of analysis by the HB Council of the value or lack of same of the collaborations. This was all a result of the fallout from the disagreements over funding of the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) and the attendant, appallingly arrogant and disrespectful behavior of the Lower Saucon Township (LST) Council.
Frankly, no one can blame the Hellertown council for these actions.
On the agenda for the August 17 LST council meeting are the 3 letters from the Borough and the 2 letters sent in response to them by the outgoing Interim Manager Peter Marshall. (see below)
The first question that pops to mind is: Since the original letters from the Borough solicitor were directed to Banonis for the Saucon Valley Partnership and to Treadwell for the pool and compost center, why are the letters in response written by an interim manager who is days within leaving his position and has no history in the township whatsoever? Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Banonis and Treadwell respectively to respond to the letters directed to them or possibly Treadwell could answer all three? Just exactly what standing does Marshall have to write these responses, especially the one regarding the compost center with its rather unsubtle hints of action against Hellertown? I urge you to read the nonsense Marshall put in that letter regarding the compost center.
Second, why is there no letter in response to the changes at the pool? Does the Council not care about those changes? Are they going to tell us that it doesn’t matter because no one uses a public pool anymore? (just like no one uses a library)
To clear up a question that I have often heard about the compost center, it is true that the center is physically located in Lower Saucon Township. However, the land on which it sits is owned by the Borough of Hellertown. And, possibly more to the point, the DEP permit to operate the center is held by Hellertown Borough alone. Lower Saucon is not eligible to have such a permit because the township permits open burning, making it ineligible. Hellertown does not permit open burning. Which makes a rather fine point that if LST residents have no access to the compost center, LST can’t create its own unless it rescinds the open burn ordinance.
As to the pool, for years it has been operating with LST residents able to buy pool passes at the resident rate. Hellertown keeps track of how many passes are sold at the lower rate and then LST reimburses Hellertown for the difference between the resident and the non-resident costs once a year. Hellertown has indicated that they will continue to allow LST residents access to the pool, but each LST resident will now have to pay the full non-resident rate either per session or per season. In effect, LST has now stopped underwriting the cost of the use of the pool by its residents and the full cost will now be borne directly by LST residents. Will your taxes decrease because the township doesn’t have to pay the difference? Don’t hold your breath.
As far as the Saucon Valley Partnership is concerned, it was created in 2004 as a Council of Governments by the Borough of Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township and the Saucon Valley School District. The County of Northampton was added as an associate member in 2009. An ad hoc committee of Hellertown and Lower Saucon had been meeting for years before the actual COG was created.
According to the webpage on the Lower Saucon Township website, “the Partnership will provide an opportunity for the members to foster communication, regional cooperation and joint action on regional issues and problems. By working together as a group, the partners can build stronger relationships and pursue strategies that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of municipal services to save tax dollars.”
It has not met since late 2021.
It’s unfortunate that Hellertown Borough has come to this decision because the purpose of the Saucon Valley Partnership is exactly the direction that municipalities should be going. The 62 municipalities of the Lehigh Valley are a case study in wasted money and effort as there is so much duplicative cost and programming in so many areas that could be conducted in collaboration. That’s what the Partnership was designed to alleviate and what it seemed to be fairly successful at.
But then we read this from the minutes of the January 19 Lower Saucon Township council meeting. Following a long and exhausting iteration of what later turned out to be significantly skewed and self-serving information about the history of the Township vis-à-vis the Hellertown Library and the Borough, Council President Banonis said this: “They want to take your money and malign this Council and insert politics into yet another fundamental, such as reading and learning. He also hopes that some now recognize and appreciate that treating Lower Saucon like an ATM is done, especially when we’re treated so underhandedly at every turn.”
Do those sound like the words of someone looking to “foster communication” and “build stronger relationships”? I don’t think so. It was at the next Borough council meeting that their council people voted to review all of the borough’s relationships with LST. Their actions on July 5 are the result of that review.
What Is a Community?
At the heart of all the fracture and division that’s been happening in the Saucon Valley since January 2022 is the question of what is a community? Is a community simply defined by its legal borders? Is Lower Saucon Township a different community from Hellertown Borough? Are there walls at the borders? Do I become a different person when I drive to Hellertown to shop at the Giant? Do we breathe different air?
What about the children who go to the same school district? Are they perceived as representing two entirely different communities? Should the child who resides in one community have different resources available than the one who resides in the other community? Should they play on different teams or in different bands? What responsibility do we as adults and voters have to provide the best possible environment for the education of the next generations collaboratively? What responsibility do we have to treat each other as neighbors?
What we’ve witnessed in the last 9 months or so is the type of outcome expected of a dysfunctional family. The leadership of LST – with the obvious exception of Mrs. deLeon – has behaved like spoiled brats, unwilling to engage in substantive discussions that acknowledged their commitments to the shared resource that is the Hellertown Library. Instead, they threw a fit and, when the Borough and the Library refused to cave to their demands, they stomped off in a pout, abandoning all of their responsibilities but still demanding all the services. It’s a little like your 7-year-old saying “I won’t make my bed but you still have to feed me dinner.”
Like most families faced with this level of dysfunctionality, the Borough of Hellertown and HAL have reacted the way most psychologists will tell you is rational. They have taken steps to protect themselves from the dysfunctional family member. HAL refused LST’s insultingly reduced $50K “donation” because LST would not negotiate an agreement in good faith that would have outlined their responsibilities as a library partner. Hellertown Borough has withdrawn from these other three collaborations as protection against being stiffed like the library was stiffed. And let’s point out – Hellertown Borough was also stiffed because they ended up ponying up a $75,000 additional donation from their American Rescue Plan monies to help the library cover its lost revenue. What confidence can they have in any partnership with LST based on what they just saw happen?
If at any point in the last 9 months there had been anything even remotely resembling a rational explanation for why LST should abandon HAL and, even more inexplicably, go strong-arming Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) for affiliation, some of this might make sense to those who have watched this insanity. But there hasn’t been. There has been precious little communication. Some of the communication has been demonstrably false. There has been a steadfast refusal to put discussion of the library situation on the council agenda. There have apparently been communications and negotiations behind the scenes that have not been shared with the public. Imagine how surprising it was to attend a Southern Lehigh Public Library board meeting on August 16 and hear that LST had offered a site for a satellite library within the township in its discussions with SLPL. What???
It is embarrassing to be a resident of LST these days. Not only has this council disrupted the library services of its own residents and now their cost of using the pool and their access to the compost center, but they have similarly caused upheaval for HAL, the Borough of Hellertown and the leaders of SLPL who have explicitly stated, more than once, that they are not interested in entertaining a larger service area. For those outside the township who know what’s going on, we are a laughingstock.
And through it all runs an ugly stream of class division. How else to explain why the township would want to redirect its library services to a library that is within a 3-mile radius of only about 20% of the township and make the other 80% of the township travel a greater distance at greater inconvenience? I’ll bet if you research the median income for the eastern part of LST vs. the southwestern part, you’ll find a considerable difference. Or not want to continue collaboration with a borough – perhaps because they have a lower median income? Or insultingly claim that the borough is using the township as “an ATM?”
That pretty much tells you where their focus is.
It’s not on community.
As a Lower Saucon Township resident, is that what you want your Council members to be doing on your behalf? Is that who we are?
The latest development in the ongoing saga of library services for Lower Saucon Township was a public statement released by Bruce Eames, Board President of the Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL), following their board meeting on July 19 (see below). In it, Mr. Eames explains that the library has decided to accept the $50,000 that Lower Saucon has been trying to give them in an attempt to pressure SLPL into making Lower Saucon a part of the SLPL system.
A check written in January was eventually voided when SLPL declined to accept it. It was reissued in May in another attempt to get SLPL to bite. It has languished in the meantime as various groups that provide financial support for SLPL have tried to pressure them into accepting the check. Eames particularly mentioned pressure from the Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors and Lower Milford Township. We also know from a recording of a public meeting of the Southern Lehigh School Board that the School Board wanted the library to accept the donation so that they could consider reducing their support for the library by an equivalent amount.
In his public statement Mr. Eames makes clear that “the Board accepts this donation with serious trepidation.” He then goes on to outline in detail why they are accepting the donation with misgivings – the fact that it was offered in the midst of the ongoing dispute between LST Council and the Hellertown Library, the fact that they are being pressured into it, and the fact that LST is requesting to become part of the SLPL service area which may or may not be a good thing for SLPL.
From the perspective of Lower Saucon Township residents, these are all determinations that SLPL has to make on its own. In fact, SLPL would have to invite LST to join their service area. LST cannot demand to be included. As Mr. Eames points out in his statement, this is a long and uncertain process, at least in part because it is unprecedented. The SLPL is studying the pros and cons of the situation. Certainly the addition of 11,000+ new customers would present significant financial challenges.
Instead, let’s step back and see where we are as this specifically relates to Lower Saucon Township and what’s being done with our tax dollars, because the situation is so rife with idiocies that it’s hard to make any sense of it.
The letter from Solicitor Treadwell (see below) expressly states that “the donation is unconditional, and was made in appreciation of the services provided by the Southern Lehigh Library to Township residents over the past 10 years.” In the words of Mr. Eames, “its [Lower Saucon’s] residents will not benefit from the donation, except to the extent they use the SLPL through the Access Pennsylvania program.” Translation: Lower Saucon Township just handed SLPL $50,000 as a contribution for which we receive no additional library services that weren’t already available to us.
The resolution passed by the Township Council on January 19 says that the $50,000 check is to be issued “so LST residents can have access to the additional library facilities provided by Southern Lehigh Library.” Except that LST residents already had access to those library facilities through Access Pennsylvania and the check didn’t provide any additional access. So the $50,000 check presented to SLPL was a contribution and should have been passed as that. It was not.
The LST budget for 2022 has an account for contributions (#01.400.500). It specifies which organizations will receive contributions from the Township. It includes 13 separate organizations for a total of $21,200. It does not include the SLPL.
The LST budget for 2022 has an account for library services (#01.456.500). It is described as: “Under the consolidated library plan that was adopted in 2013, the Township contributes to the Hellertown Area Library for library services for its residents. Included is the amount requested from the library which represents $9.66 per capita of 11,094 residents.” This is the account out of which the $50,000 check (#78946 dated May 12, 2022) for SLPL was paid.
If LST Council was going to offer the $50,000 as an “unconditional” donation for which no services were received, then they needed to have passed a new resolution to that effect and made the necessary budget adjustments to pay the $50K out of the Contributions account.
Here’s a very helpful map created by John Schubert of a 3-mile radius around each of the libraries – Hellertown and SLPL. As you can see, a 3-mile radius from SLPL covers only a sliver of the area of Lower Saucon. How can it make any sense to make library access more difficult for what looks to be about 80% of the Township? And why would the 80% of people who live in that part of the Township want their tax dollars to go to SLPL? Let alone those in the other 20% of the Township who are quite happy with the Hellertown Area Library (HAL).
Where is the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development in all this? Out to lunch. So far their major contribution has been to say that HAL must continue to provide services to LST whether or not they get funding from LST at least until January 1, 2024. How does that make any sense? How is that supportive of a library, making them give away services for free? And don’t they know the word “NO”? Can’t they see that what LST’s council is proposing is not representative of the desires of their constituents? Just say “no” and we’re done with this nonsense.
State Representative Bob Freeman in particular and State Senator Lisa Boscola have been involved in trying to resolve this issue with the OCL. Where is the person that represents Lower Saucon in all this? Do you mean Missing-in-Action Milou Mackenzie? Not a peep from what I can see. And you won’t find any mention of anything she’s done on the issue in that glossy, taxpayer-paid “newsletter” you get in the mail either.
It would be interesting to see if the Southern Lehigh School District has reduced its funding for SLPL now that SLPL has accepted the $50,000 check. More to come.
It’s also a curious coincidence that our newly appointed LST council person is Mark Inglis and a member of the Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors that has been putting pressure on SLPL to accept the check is John Inglis. My understanding is that they are related. Brothers, perhaps? If you recall, there was no information on who else applied for that council position or why Inglis was chosen.
So now we wait. The next SLPL Board meeting is Tuesday, August 16, at 6:30 PM in the library’s meeting room. Mr. Eames indicated in his statement that the library board hoped to have a response to many of their own questions at this meeting.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
As of today, it has been 43 days that Lower Saucon Township has been freeloading off of the Hellertown Area Public Library. The township has paid not one cent toward the use of those facilities and yet the Library has graciously allowed the residents of the Township to continue to use them. How does it feel as a resident to be required to accept charity from a far less richly endowed borough like Hellertown or a non-profit institution like the Library? Aren’t you just a little ashamed? Does it bother you that we’ve become a laughingstock in the Valley? “Oh, Lower Saucon. Isn’t that where they pulled out of the Library? What’s wrong with those people?”
And yeah, yeah, I know the nonsense about the State grant money. I’ll get to that in detail later.
The February 16 Township Council meeting featured so much manure being shoveled at us accompanied by such high grade gaslighting that I’m frankly astonished that Town Hall didn’t spontaneously combust. Let’s review what we had to sit through for almost 4 hours.
First, the Council couldn’t even be bothered to put the library on the agenda, despite Mrs. deLeon’s best efforts. Instead, they buried it in Council reports which meant there could be no public comment until the end of the meeting. Then they made sure the meeting ran just as long as possible, starting with a resolution honoring a township Scout which – in Banonis’ own words (draft minutes, page 2, line 53-54) – “Normally we don’t read these resolutions, but he thinks it’s an important milestone that we should read it as well as the next one.” The next one honored the Saucon Valley wrestling team and required not only the reading of the entire resolution along with each individual team member’s name and acknowledgement but also team and council pictures while the entire audience waited. That ate up a good half hour.
In addition to the usual developer items, bid authorizations, contract approvals and various other quotidian items, there had to be a number of approvals and authorizations to cover the vacancies created by the resignation of Leslie Huhn, Township Manager, the openings for a finance clerk and administrative assistant, the hiring of an interim township manager, and a temp part-time clerical employee. Does anyone else find that a disturbing amount of staff turnover? Things that make you go “hmmmmm.”
On the subject of Ms. Huhn’s resignation, I’d only like to point out that it was somewhat disheartening that after her 20 or so years of service to the Township, that the Council couldn’t be bothered to cobble together a resolution to thank her for her service. You could formally thank a Boy Scout for building a kiosk but not Ms. Huhn for two decades of service? Setting aside the various conjectures about the timing and cause of her resignation, she was a competent employee with a ton of institutional knowledge and replacing her will be challenging, both because of the current employment challenges in the country and the Township’s low public regard. Couldn’t the Township have managed at least a formal thank-you instead of the kind of haphazard “gee, we’re sorry to see you go” that we got instead? I guess not.
Before we get to the library though, there were a few other agenda items worth mentioning. Once again we were treated to the politically motivated announcement of the fact that Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky were giving up their Council compensation for not just this year but, wait for it, their entire terms. Yes, yes, I know it supposedly had to be included in the minutes, but if you read the solicitor’s explanation of why, it says in case the Township provides benefits like healthcare, etc. it has to be on the record. We don’t. And you could have reported it in Council or Township Manager’s reports and it would have made it into the minutes. Mrs. deLeon made a good point as well. Why wasn’t this done at the organizational meeting if this was their intention? Why wait? Bigger audience?
One important point on this issue. Later in the meeting, Banonis incorrectly claimed “there was a statement of accepting money from the landfill, he can say publicly that he never accepted anything from the landfill . . . just so that record is clear.” (draft minutes, page 12, lines 36-38). He’s referring to a statement I made, (draft minutes, page 1, lines 48-50) where I said that he, Carocci and Zavacky “were provided with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of political support” from the PAC funded by the company that owns the landfill. I did not say that anyone had accepted money from the landfill, only political support. He, as well as the other two, did indeed accept that political support in that they never repudiated that support and silence can be construed as acceptance.
This meeting also saw the consideration of quotes for livestreaming of Council meetings. Carocci almost immediately moved to table the consideration of quotes until a permanent township manager is hired because “[i]t’s a lot of money and a complicated system and he wants to have the permanent Township Manager look at these proposals and decide with that persons [sic] input what the best is for the Township. He will have to live with the system.” (draft minutes, page 14, lines 2-4). Don’t you love the assumption that the new township manager will be male? But I digress.
If we assume that there is some validity in that argument (some, not a lot), then let’s move to a more compelling question. In March 2020 as we have all been recently reminded by the media, the world shut down because of Covid. The March 18, 2020, council meeting was cancelled, but by April 1, council meetings were back in session and were being streamed via the Zoom app which provided not only video of the meeting but also two-way audio, permitting not only township officials and the councilmembers to comment but also allowed public comment, just like always. That system worked fine until Council went back to public meetings in June 2021 – in other words, for more than a year.
If it’s necessary to wait for permanent equipment and a full-fledged system until there’s a permanent township manager, then why in the name of common sense can’t we simply reinstate the previous system to provide livestreaming and two-way communication just like before? Has everyone gone braindead and can’t remember how to do that? Or is it that this council really doesn’t want all those pesky residents to see what’s going on or, even worse, comment on it? Funny how Hellertown can do it, but Lower Saucon can’t.
FYI, 1000 people have viewed the livestream from the January 19 meeting and 695 viewed the livestream from February 16. I would say that represents a significantly interested constituency. During the February 16 meeting, there were more than 85 people watching the meeting as it livestreamed. In January there were over 100. I will point out that it should not be necessary for a volunteer resident to have to provide a service which is so clearly desired by the township AND SHOULD BE PAID FOR BY IT and which they have already proven themselves capable of doing without a $17,000 system. Not only that, but a Facebook livestream can’t provide two-way communication like the previous Zoom set-up could. But then maybe that’s the point.
And Now to the Library
According to Zavacky, the library issue was relegated to her council report and not an agenda item because there was nothing to vote on. This is arrant baloney. Let’s look at the word salad she used to explain why it was in the report section and not an agenda item. (Draft minutes, page 16, lines 17-22). “As an update, that’s why it’s an update and not on the agenda, in terms of official action on what this Council would take, that would be things like recommendations that we need to be made by an agency pursuant to the statute ordinance, executive order, the establishment of policy, the decisions we need to make on agency business or vote on. We have nothing to vote on today so that comes from the Sunshine Act and it has to be done here [meaning in the reports section].”
Okay, that’s not what the Sunshine Act says. What it does say is this, §709.(c.1)(i) Notification of agency business to be considered. “. . .the agency shall post the agenda, which includes a listing of each matter of agency business that will be or may be the subject of deliberation or official action at the meeting . . .” It later says in §712.1(a) that “. . . an agency may not take official action on a matter of agency business at a meeting if the matter was not included in the notification required under section 709(c.1).” It then goes on to indicate what the exceptions are to being able to take action without previous notification.
So for those who are not used to reading legislative gobbledygook, let me explain what that means. First, you’ll notice there is NOTHING in the Act that refers to what items MUST be included in the reports part of an agenda. Second, the Act speaks to what MUST be included in an agenda if the Council wants to take action on it, but it does not prohibit other things from being included in the agenda. In fact, the agenda for February 16 included an item that took no action or deliberation, i.e. the aforementioned letters renouncing compensation by Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky. So they could have been included in the Council reports since that would have gotten them read into the minutes if that was all that was necessary.
Next, I’m sure you all remember these immortal words from Banonis at the January 19 meeting, (from the approved minutes, page 2) “For a period of seven months in 2021, from May through December, the library board apparently chose to exclude Lower Saucon Township from negotiations on a new agreement.” (Page 4) “The library in Hellertown rejected every effort, every single effort by our Township Manager and Solicitor over a period of eight months.” (Page 5) “They didn’t, they ignored us. They never contacted us. Our Township Manager contacted them repeatedly and they ignored our requests.” And yet here at the February 16 minutes is Zavacky with a sheaf of papers showing all the interactions between LST and Hellertown Borough and HAL. How could that be? Well, she did start back in July 2020 which of course is irrelevant to the discussions we’re having now. But she then went on to (draft minutes, page 18 line 11 through page 19 line 16 – 58 lines of minutes) outline communications back and forth among Hellertown Borough, HAL and LST from the Summer of 2021 through November 16, 2021.
What’s the truth here? Was it that “they never contacted us” or was it the reams of paper that Zavacky offered to put up on the Township website? Incidentally, I haven’t been able to find that posted anywhere? If you find it, let me know.
Two More Items Related to the Library
Southern Lehigh Public Library Statement
Shortly before the February 16 meeting, Bruce Eames, the president of the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board put out a statement that said, among other things, “we do not want to be involved in this fight and have made that very clear to both LST and HAL on several occasions. SLPL’s Board of Directors feel that it is in the best interest of all involved for LST and HAL to continue negotiating and come to an agreement. It is not SLPS’s intention to shop our services to additional municipalities and organizations. [emphasis added] We currently serve Upper Saucon Township, Lower Milford Township, Coopersburg Borough and the Southern Lehigh School District. That service area has worked very well for many years and our plans are to continue that relationship for the foreseeable future. There have been reports of a possible financial donation being offered by LST to SLPL, but no action has been taken and we believe this is on hold.[emphasis added]”
Carocci apparently has difficulty understanding what this plain English statement means. In response to a comment by Jo Ellen Thomson in the public comment period that Southern Lehigh Public Library “had made it public they are not interested in this at this time,” (draft minutes, page 34, lines 4 and 5), Carocci responded (page 34, lines 10 and 11) “I also want to say you are misinformed, SLPL is on hold and they want to continue to negotiate, to talk. So you’re wrong. You were misinformed.” No, Carocci, she wasn’t. You are. SLPL didn’t say they had put the issue on hold. They said that their understanding was that the issue was on hold – BY LST. Notice it says “believe.” If they had put it on hold, they would “know,” not “believe” it. Apparently you don’t understand the meaning of “no means no.”
OCL Appropriations for Libraries
Finally, and this is probably the most insulting part of this whole issue, is the implication that somehow HAL was trying to pull a fast one by including LST’s population numbers as part of their service area when they applied for the annual grant from the state. According to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) website “laws are enacted each year that detail how state aid is distributed.” As anyone who knows anything at all about how the state operates knows, funding is determined based on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 – June 30. HAL’s application for a state grant was submitted in Summer 2021, probably after July 1 when the new fiscal year began. At that time, they would have had no inkling that LST would renege on its commitment to support the library or refuse to sign a new agreement. So there is nothing untoward about their including LST and its population in their service area.
HAL was approved for a grant of $35,662.87 for FY 2021-2022. That means from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. The OCL website says that payments are made to local libraries in January/February “during each fiscal year (July-June).” So for Carocci to claim “They applied for the grant, they got the grant, and it’s for the calendar year.” (draft minutes, page 25, line 40) is just plain wrong. The state doesn’t work on a calendar year basis. It cannot appropriate funds for the second half of 2022 because it does not have an approved budget. Having managed any number of state grants in my working career, I know this to be true. And anyone who’s lived in Pennsylvania during one of those years when the legislature can’t get a budget passed knows that the State shuts down on July 1.
Here is the screenshot from the file on the OCL website titled “2021-22 State Aid Projections” with the dollar amount that matches the amount that HAL has indicated that it received from the State.
Nowhere does this indicate that the grant is for the calendar year 2022. If that’s what Carocci heard, he needs to get his hearing checked. HAL, like all the other libraries, will need to apply for a grant for the remainder of 2022 after July 1 when the new budget is passed. My guess is that this is why HAL, in their current proposal, requires that an agreement be signed for 2023 before July 1, 2022, so that they will know going forward whether to use the LST figures in their application to the State or not.
The fact that HAL agrees to not terminate services to LST before the end of 2022 even if LST refuses to sign an agreement for 2023 is a gift to LST. What they are offering is to provide services to LST from July 1 through December 31 even if LST does not enter into an agreement for 2023 and beyond, even though HAL will not be able to include LST in its request for funds for 2022-2023 which would cover the second half of 2022, a period when LST would be getting services in return for their contributions but HAL would not be receiving funds from the State. I know this is confusing but hey, that’s why we pay the council members the big bucks. Oh yeah, I forgot. They don’t take the money.
So enough with the crap about HAL “threatening” LST to cut off services. You don’t pay for them; you don’t get them. Instead, you become freeloaders. And frankly, as a resident, I don’t appreciate being forced into that category.
One more thing. In the October 22 issue of Saucon Shenanigans, I laid out a detailed process by which all three parties to the Library could reach an agreement on funding the Library. Perhaps you might want to revisit that. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble.
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, March 16, 6:30 PM – Township Hall
As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.