What’s the Excuse This Time?

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

No Action

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

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

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

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

What’s Behind All This Delay?

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

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

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

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

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

Idea #1 – Bullying Gone Bad

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

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

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

Oops, Not What They Expected?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But How About Pickleball?

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few other thoughts:

  • Back at the October 27 meeting, our new state representative Milou Mackenzie showed up to tell us all about how she’s here to help the residents of LST.  Well, Milou, where are you now?  Bob Freeman has been very visible in trying to facilitate discussions between the state’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries and HAL and Hellertown Borough.  Where are you?  What have you done?
  • A big shout-out to our interim Township Manager, Peter Marshall, for calling out the appalling state of whatever it is that passes for “minutes” of Township meetings.  Those multi-page abominations have nothing to do with the definition of minutes in Robert’s Rules of Order.  And if you want to argue that they’re transcriptions of the meetings, they’re virtually useless for that too because there’s no attempt to turn the transcriptions into understandable sentence structure.  There are incorrect words, misspelled words, run-on sentences with unclear attributions as to who is speaking.  Thank you for pointing out that whatever we’re paying for them is a giant waste of township money.  Please, get this man some chairs just for calling attention to that.

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.

This is a Leader?

I’m the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 7. On Election Day, November 2, I had a couple very unpleasant interactions with a candidate for Saucon Valley School Board, Shamim Pakzad.   I subsequently prepared a statement that I submitted to Amy Cozze, Chief Registrar of Elections for Northampton County. I wrote it for two reasons: first, to confirm that we had handled the situation correctly and in compliance with the rules governing polling locations and second, to have a contemporaneous statement of the events on file with the County.

Ms. Cozze confirmed that we did indeed handle the situation correctly and in accordance with the voting regulations.

Mr. Pakzad was re-elected to the Saucon Valley School Board.  I think the residents of the school district have a right to know what their school board member thinks is appropriate behavior under the circumstances outlined.  Rather than re-tell the story, I’ve simply provided a copy of the statement I made to the Registrar of Elections below.


Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Prepared by:    Andrea Wittchen, Judge of Election. Friday, November 5, 2021

I was the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 7 on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.  Lower Saucon 7 and Lower Saucon 8 share a polling site in the Se-Wy-Co Fire Company Social Hall at 3621 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem, PA 18015.

Shamim Pakzad was a candidate for the Saucon Valley School Board.  Early in the day, I saw him, I assume, voting in Lower Saucon 8 which I assume is his voting district.  Afterwards, he came over to where I was at the Lower Saucon 7 registration table and struck up a conversation with me.  I have spoken with Mr. Pakzad in the past by phone and over email and Facebook.  As the conversation was dragging on, I was about to suggest that I needed to get back to my election duties when he ended the conversation and left.

Later that morning, I noticed that Mr. Pakzad was again back in the polling site, this time speaking at length with the Republican poll watcher.  I was busy checking in voters but I estimate he was in the polling area for about 15-20 minutes.

After he left, I referred to my election workers polling guide to read up on who was allowed within a polling site because I thought I remembered that candidates were not allowed inside except to cast their own votes.  I did not find any reference on the list of people allowed inside a polling site to a candidate being allowed on the premises.

A few hours later, I noticed that Mr. Pakzad was again back in the polling site, this time talking with election workers at the Lower Saucon 8 registration table.  As I was walking over to the table, I heard him ask one of the workers how many people had voted in the precinct.  After he left, I spoke with both Kathy, the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 8, and Jody, the deputy constable, and advised them that candidates were not permitted in polling areas.  I asked if he had provided any identification as a poll watcher, which I thought was unlikely, or some other classification that would permit him to be in the area.  They said he had not shown anything like that. They confirmed that he had been asking for a count of how many people had voted.

Because we share the same voting space, Kathy and I often confer on details of election rules and protocol so that we are doing things consistently.  She agreed that he should not be in the polling area.

Shortly thereafter, sometime before about 2:45 PM, for the fourth time Mr. Pakzad again entered the polling site.  I approached him and informed him that unless he had some type of certification as a poll watcher or other legal justification, that as a candidate he was not permitted in the polling area.  He then reached for the hand sanitizer and said he had just come in to use the hand sanitizer, couldn’t he do that?  I advised him that that was not acceptable and that he would have to leave.  He then said couldn’t he use the restroom?  I said no, not really, that he was not permitted in the polling area.  He kept pushing the point about using the restrooms until I agreed that if he used the back entrance to the area of the restrooms, which is completely separated from the polling area by closed doors, that he could access the restrooms that way.

He left, then came back to complain that the back entrance was locked.  Jody agreed to open the door for him so he could use the restroom.  Subsequently, throughout the rest of the afternoon, we found the door propped open and left it that way.  When it became dark and the weather became colder to the point that some of my election team, which was closest to the restroom area, began to complain of being cold, I removed the log that was being used as a prop and closed the door.  Someone then propped it open again.  I removed the log and closed the door again. Before I did that, I consulted with Frank, the constable, who agreed we had every right to keep that door closed.

I would like to point out that there is a Speedway right down the street from Se-Wy-Co which has restroom facilities that are accessible to the public.  In addition, we did not prevent – or for that matter even monitor – the use of the restrooms by voters, election workers, or poll watchers.

At the end of the day, after we had closed up the polls and were leaving to drive to the court house to return our election materials, Mr. Pakzad was waiting outside the building.  As I left, he accosted me and loudly complained that I had applied the rules inequitably, that he was the only person who had been denied entrance to the polling area. I explained that those were the rules and that I was maintaining the integrity of the area by not permitting him to be in there. I also pointed out that we had made accommodation for him to access the restroom without having to transit the polling area.

He claimed that other candidates had walked straight through the polling area and used the restrooms.  He specifically stated that Lori Vargo Heffner and Tom Carocci had walked through the polling area.  I replied that I had not seen them do that, possibly because I was not there when it happened (I was out of the building from about 3 PM to about 4 PM) or because I was involved with election tasks.  I told him that if I had seen them, I would have said something.  He kept loudly complaining that I had been deliberately unfair to him.  He kept it up until I entered my car.  There were a number of witnesses to his behavior including most of my election team and several members of the Lower Saucon 8 election team.

I would like to state that while it is true that he was the only candidate that I requested abide by the election rules and stay out of the polling area, he was also the only candidate who entered that space 3 times in addition to the time he was there to vote, which made me notice that he was, in fact, unauthorized to be there.  I did not see the other candidates he referred to, but they were definitely not in the space multiple times, requesting information from poll workers or conferring with poll watchers.  

I believe that I acted in accordance with my oath and with the rules outlined in the guidebook that I was given to follow.  I treated him politely but with firmness and insisted that he follow the rules just like every other candidate.  I feel that his returning at the end of the day and waiting for me to leave was aggressive and uncalled for and that the claim of using the restroom was simply a pretext to justify his presence in a place he was not supposed to be.  Before I told him that he had to leave, he had made no movement in the direction of the restrooms.”

FYI, according to voting regulations, candidates are only allowed in their own precincts to cast their votes.  They are not permitted to converse with other voters or poll watchers within the polling area. They are not permitted in any other precincts for any purpose.