Follow-Up: How to Submit Comments on the 2021 Budget

As promised, here are the details on how to submit comments on the LST 2021 Budget.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:

Lower Saucon Township, 3700 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem, PA 18015

or by email to:

receptionist@lowersaucontownship.org

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The legal notice regarding the budget was published on November 13 in the Morning Call. The 20-day comment period would therefore end on December 3. While I’ve been told that since the budget’s posted on the website that the 20-day limit is not really important, I’d suggest you send your comments by Dec. 3 so they don’t get excluded on a technicality. Of course, residents can always comment on any agenda item at the December 16 meeting at 7 PM at which the budget will be adopted, but you will be limited to a 3-minute statement.

Budgeting for Bullies

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It’s budget time in Lower Saucon Township so let me fill you in on what’s been going on down at the old virtual Town Hall.

As I understand it, here’s how the schedule works. There’s a budget workshop meeting, which was held on Wednesday, October 28. That’s followed by the presentation of the 2021 Proposed Budget at a regular Council meeting which was held on Wednesday, November 4. The approved Proposed Budget is then open for public comment for 20 days. The Council approved publishing notice of the public comment period at its November 4 meeting. The approved Proposed Budget is now up on the Township website. I’m not quite sure when that 20 day period started or where that notification gets published. When I find out, I’ll let you know. Then, sometime after the comment period, the Council votes on the final budget for 2021. According to Ms. Huhn, it’s likely this would be at the December 16 Council meeting.

Why would you care about this timeline? Well, I’m thinking there may be some residents who want to make some comments about some of the particulars in this budget.

Budget Details and the Cliff Notes Version

On Friday, November 13, 2020, the Morning Call published a detailed article on the Lower Saucon budget written by Christina Tatu. If you can’t access the article because of the Call’s paywall, here are the highlights:

  • The general fund budget is $8.53 million. The total budget is $11.3 million.
  • The proposed budget reduces real estate taxes from 6.39 mills to 5.14 mills, representing a 1 mill reduction in real estate taxes and a .25 mill reduction in the fire tax
  • The township has about $12 million in cash reserves
  • The township Council added an addendum to the budget that makes funding of the township’s two fire companies dependent on their successful completion of a merger by arbitrarily prescribed dates in 2021

Let’s take a look at some of the items in more detail.

Real Estate Tax Reduction

Obviously for most Township residents, the reduction in the real estate tax is the good news of the day. And frankly, any township that’s holding almost a year and half worth of revenue in reserve is not collecting taxes; it’s hoarding money. So returning some of it to Township residents seems a laudable thing to do.

Here’s some of the history. Because of the imminent closure of the landfill (in about 3 years), Council undertook an aggressive plan to pay down township debt so that when the landfill revenue disappeared, residents would not take as big a hit tax-wise to cover the loss. They finished paying off that debt in 2020, leaving the Township debt-free, an enviable position.

In the meantime, the landfill applied for an expansion, called the Northern Realignment, that will increase the landfill’s usable life by about 5 more years. Landfill revenue currently amounts to about $2 million per year, so its loss would represent about a 23% reduction in revenue. If the expansion is approved, that potential loss gets postponed for an additional five years. The combination of the aggressive debt-repayment action and the extension of the landfill life resulted in that significant cash reserve. Council’s plan to return some of that overage to residents seems to be prudent, and fair, policy.

There are two items in relationship to it, however, that I would like to bring to your attention.

First, the extension of the life of the landfill does not FIX the problem of its eventual closing. It only kicks the can down the road. The reduction in the real estate tax millage is only prudent if Council undertakes a concomitant commitment to township revenue development focused on creating new revenue within the next 5-7 years that will replace the landfill loss. There has been some discussion on various development possibilities in the Township but I get no sense of urgency about any of them. The 378 Corridor has been one possibility, but right now, many of those properties sit vacant, representing lost revenue. While I understand that the Covid-19 crisis has put dramatic strains on many of the types of businesses that populated that stretch, Council cannot become complacent about addressing opportunities along that Corridor. Planning now for the inevitable end of the Covid crisis would be an appropriate use of Council’s time rather than waiting until it’s a scramble to get projects up and running in time to meet the new deadline of the landfill closing.

Second, implementing a tax decrease is a very helpful tool for politicians running for re-election. But if the decrease now only means a significant increase later, then we’re just playing bait and switch. Mr. Banonis has already tried to put a political spin on the decrease. The Call quotes him as saying the tax decrease was “necessary to provide relief to our residents suffering from the continued effects of Gov. Wolf’s COVID shutdown.” This is a bit precious, to say the least. In presenting the budget, Township Finance Director Cathy Gorman made the point that one of the reasons that Lower Saucon will be ending the year in such a good financial position is that the Earned Income Tax receipts are, in fact, 11% higher than those received in 2019. I’m certain most other townships would like to be in such an enviable position and, while many of us have been adversely affected by the COVID crisis and will certainly be relieved to have the reduced tax burden, it doesn’t appear that the COVID crisis has taken a huge financial toll on residents’ incomes. In addition, many residents, especially those of us in older age groups and those with dangerous co-morbidities, are quite grateful to Governor Wolf for his ongoing responsible and effective leadership during the crisis that focused on preserving the health of the community.

The bottom line – the tax decrease, while prudent and appropriate at the moment, comes with possible challenges in the future. Keep that in mind and perhaps keep the pressure on Council to keep looking for new revenue opportunities.

Fire Tax Decrease

The other good news is the fire tax decrease of .25 mills. The fire companies have said that they are comfortable with that decrease and with the reserve cushion that has already been built up. Since this is a relatively new tax, it’s not surprising that it has taken a few years to figure out what the proper level of taxation is to guarantee funding.

The Budget as Cudgel

Which brings us to the whole issue of funding for the fire companies and the addendum that was added to the 2021 budget to predicate the funding levels on whether the two companies can achieve a merger by the Council’s pre-determined timelines.

Here’s some history as I understand it. The township at one time had 4 fire companies: Leithsville, Se-Wy-Co, Southeastern and Steel City. Leithsville and Se-Wy-Co merged to create Lower Saucon Fire Rescue (LSFR). LSFR then absorbed Southeastern and maintained the name Lower Saucon Fire Rescue. The final merger is between Steel City and LSFR. All of this has taken place over the span of several years.

Also, at some point, based on some financial skullduggery that occurred at a fire company that is not part of the Township, the Township imposed a set of requirements on how the fire companies needed to report their finances in order to qualify for Township funding. At the beginning of this year, there was some attempt by Council members to tie some additional strings to the funding for 2020. I was puzzled at the time at the level of acrimony between the Council and the fire companies’ representatives. Mrs. deLeon and Mrs. Stauffer raised objections to what they perceived as an attempt to change the rules for the release of funding at the 11th hour and no changes were made.

Since then, several Council members have apparently become even more frustrated about the length of time that the last merger is taking. Mrs. Yerger, Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci have all expressed annoyance and irritation with the slow pace of the consolidation. At the October 7 Council dumpster fire that passed as a meeting, Mr. Carocci presented three motions during the reports period of the agenda (which means the motions were not on the publicly available agenda) requiring that the fire companies meet arbitrary deadlines to complete the merger or else face the reduction or possible elimination of funding during the 2021 budget year. Over the objections of Mrs. deLeon and Mrs. Stauffer, the motions passed.

The Approved Draft Budget includes those requirements. If you look at the section, Fire and Emergency Services, on page 21 of the budget explanation on the Township website, you’ll see a clever little asterisk next to the title. This takes you to end of the budget report and the restrictions that were passed at that October 6 council meeting. I’ll reproduce them here so you don’t have to go looking.

Motion for the Township staff to prepare a proposed 2021 budget that will allocate $150,000 to Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and $50,000 to Steel City Fire Company to assist in the funding of their operations which payments will placed on the June __, 2021 agenda for approval. If the April 1st deadline is met, then payment may be authorized at the next regularly scheduled Council meeting. These amounts maintain the 2020 Township funding levels. However, none of the allocated funds in the 2021 budget will be payable unless the following condition is met:

Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and Steel City Fire completely merge their operations and become one legally merged fire company to the satisfaction of Township Council and under Pennsylvania and Federal Law by April 1, 2021.

If by April 2, 2021, Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and Steel City Fire have failed to completely merge their operations and become one legally merged fire company to the satisfaction of Township Council and under Pennsylvania and Federal Law the allocated funds will be reduced by 50% at that time. Meaning – Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue would only be eligible for $75,000 and Steel City Fire $25,000 in Township funding in fiscal 2021.

If by May 1, 2021, Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and Steel City Fire still have not completely merged their operations and become one legally merged fire company to the satisfaction of Township Council and under Pennsylvania and Federal Law the remain allocated funds in will be reduced by an additional 50% at that time. Meaning as of May 1, 2021 – Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue would only be eligible for $37,500 and Steel City Fire $12,500 in Township funding in fiscal 2021.

If by June 1, 2021, Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and Steel City Fire have failed to completely merge their operations and become on legally merged fire company to the satisfaction of Township Council and under Pennsylvania and Federal Law. Lower Saucon Fire & Rescue and Steel City will not be eligible for any of the aforementioned Township funds during fiscal year 2021.

Scott Krycia, President of LSFR, presented a very cogent and direct comment to this portion of the budget at the budget workshop meeting on October 28. In it, he highlighted the difficulties that the COVID crisis has presented in accomplishing a merger that involves multiple levels of both county and state approval to be completed. He also pointed out that all of the fire companies’ personnel are volunteers, who are attempting to accomplish all of this in their spare time as they and their families also deal with that COVID crisis that Mr. Banonis likes to use to justify all sorts of things and as they continue to fight fires and provide rescue services. His quite reasonable plea was that Council reconsider the deadlines and work out ones that are mutually acceptable to the fire companies and the Council. His plea fell on deaf ears. It was on the basis of this particular issue that Mrs. deLeon voted against approving the budget at the November 4 meeting. Mrs. Stauffer was absent.

Mr. Krycia didn’t bring up this other point but I will. I’m always suspicious of weasel wording like “to the satisfaction of Township Council.” What exactly does that mean? Could the merger be in accordance with “Pennsylvania and Federal Law” and still not “satisfy” Township Council? That’s pretty vague wording that could cover a multitude of sins. So far this year, it would seem that Township Council is never satisfied with anything that the fire companies propose.

I’ll also point out that Mr. Krycia was required to explain his rather complicated position in the pathetically laughable three minutes of public comment time that he was allotted, a subject I’ll take up in a future blog.

Ms. Tatu, in her Call article, reports that Mr. Krycia believes that if the LSFR loses funding, the fire company might have to take measures that would mean longer response times. Frankly, if I were LSFR and Steel City and I were treated with such disrespect to the point that Council wouldn’t even have a civil discussion about the real barriers to meeting arbitrary deadlines imposed by the Council, I’d just shut the fire companies down. I’d also point out that I’m not aware that any of the three Council members who supported these actions have any direct experience in managing a fire company merger whereas the leadership of LSFR has been through this process at least twice in recent years. Whose experience would you depend on?

It all seems to be a gigantic power struggle that certainly doesn’t end up benefiting the Township, especially in a time when volunteer fire companies are having more and more difficulty finding volunteers. It’s a tough job, time consuming and physically demanding, and volunteer fire personnel are tremendously dedicated. If the end result is that Lower Saucon has to transition to a paid fire department, you can kiss that 1 mill tax reduction good-bye.

Make Your Voice Heard

What can you do about all this? Speak up. Send comments to the Township Council. Here are their email addresses.

  • Mrs. Yerger – syerger@lowersaucontownship.org
  • Mr. Banonis – jbanonis@lowersaucontownship.org
  • Mrs. deLeon – pdeleon@lowersaucontownship.org
  • Mr. Carocci – tcarocci@lowersaucontownship.org
  • Mrs. Stauffer – k.stauffer@lowersaucontownship.org

Or give the township office a call at 610-865-3291 and ask them where comments can be registered.

This is especially important if you are NOT part of either of the fire companies or related to their members. I’m sure the fire companies can mount their own defense, but if you find these budget restrictions imprudent and counter-productive, let council members know that it’s not just a fire company thing. This impacts all of us.

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, November 18, 7 PM

Next Township Elections – Primary: Tuesday, May 18, 2021. General: Tuesday, November 2, 2021

A Tale of Two Meetings

October played host to not two but three meetings of the Lower Saucon Township Council. Two regular meetings were held on October 7 and October 21. The third meeting, on October 28, was a meeting specifically to review a draft budget for 2021. I’ll report on the third meeting in a subsequent blog.

I took off for a much-needed vacation the morning following the dumpster fire that passed for a Council meeting on October 7 and returned only shortly before the meeting on October 21. Since I had no intention of imposing memories of the October 7 meeting on my valuable away-time, I’m addressing both the October meetings together.

Was It the Length?

After a couple months of relatively collegial and productive Council meetings, the October 7 meeting proved that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Perhaps it was the length of the meeting (almost 4 solid hours) or the tediousness of the Bethlehem Landfill presentation or the inflammatory nature of the discussion on the pavilion rental policy, but the backbiting, mansplaining, belittling, bullying behavior reared its ugly head the longer the meeting dragged on.

The first bumps in the road appeared around the question of whether the Council should take a position on the Landfill’s current filing with the Zoning Hearing Board. The legal twists and turns of these landfill discussions are a bit difficult for the average citizen to follow. Apparently they were asking the Council for a special exception so that they would not have to install a berm on a realignment of the landfill. About this, there was unanimity as the Council voted 5-0 to approve the exception.

From there, the discussion progressed to what position the Council would take regarding the current filings the landfill company has before the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) and the Planning Commission regarding the Northern Realignment. What became concerning in the discussion was the seeming lack of trust regarding how the Zoning Hearing Board operates. Mrs. deLeon wanted legal representation from the Council in front of the Hearing Board even if the Council voted to take “no position” on the filings. Mr. Treadwell indicated that would not be necessary.

The discussion went round and round with no one clearly articulating what the relationship is between the ZHB and the Council. Isn’t the ZHB appointed by the Council? As such, don’t they in some way represent the Council? Aren’t they separately responsible for making sure the landfill company abides by the law? Isn’t that why the ZHB has its own solicitor? There were no answers to any of these questions and when they finally voted 4-1 to take no position on the landfill company’s filings and to not send a solicitor, the reasoning for the decision was as clear as mud.

Ah, the Pavilion Rental Policy

After a few more mundane items, we landed at the discussion on the pavilion rental policy. A thoroughly reasonable motion was made by Mrs. Yerger to table the discussion until Ms. Huhn could obtain additional information on how other municipalities handle the kind of situation that arose from the Republican Party renting the pavilion under the guise of a “private” party. In addition, the Parks and Recreation Board had requested that it be included in future discussions on park rental policies and they had not had time to review the rules and regulations before that night’s meeting. Also, given the anger that had built up around the event, it was certainly a good idea to let that cool off a bit.

But a couple problems arose during the public comment.

First, comments wandered far afield from the question of whether to table the motion. Mrs. Yerger made no attempt to rein them in.

Second, the comments made by township residents about actions taken – or not taken – by the police at the event were heard but not responded to nor was there any indication of a forum where such troubling complaints could be dealt with.

Third, Mr. Banonis refused to respond to the question by Mrs. Stauffer of whether he was at the event, even though there were published photos showing him there, except to say that what he does on his personal time is really no one’s business “of this Council or you, Kristen.” Why can’t he admit he was there? And really, is that personal dig necessary?

Fourth, there was no specific date set for follow-up on this subject. Apparently with budget season upon us, it would be too heavy a lift for Council to consider this at the same time. But new season rentals begin to be accepted in January. Shouldn’t this be close to a resolution by then?

When Is a Report More than a Report?

Then we arrived at the portion of the meeting where the Council and Staff reports are heard. By now it was well past 10 PM. And Mr. Carocci presented three motions regarding budgeting for the fire companies that were not on the agenda and were not available for review. There were two that were put up on the screen. The third was not readable by the at-home audience.

The gist of the motions was to require Ms. Gorman to create a budget that included a step-down mechanism for funding of the fire companies that would be triggered if the merger of the companies was not completed by certain arbitrary dates. It also included a reduction in the Fire Tax. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the budgeting meeting blog. But the central point is – why are motions required to do this? The draft budget was not going to be presented until October 28 at which time every item on it could be discussed. Why could this not have been a simple request to Mrs. Gorman? Doesn’t she receive requests for other budget items from other Council and staff members? Isn’t the point of the budget meetings to discuss these kinds of choices? Why, this late in a meeting, under the Reports section, is something with such wide-ranging impact introduced as a motion? By my count, more than 20 of the original participants by Zoom had already left the meeting.

All three motions passed, two by a 3-2 vote (Mrs. Stauffer and Mrs. deLeon dissenting), one by a 4-1 vote (Mrs. Stauffer dissenting).

Then Mr. Banonis, during his report, proceeded to introduce a motion “to remove Lauressa McNemar and Tri-C Corporation for their ongoing consulting role immediately and to the extent that there are ongoing permit issues that are pending with the landfill that we replace them with Maser Engineering, as a limited engagement, simply for the review and consultation on those permit applications.”

Again, this was a confusing issue at a VERY late hour dealing with the work that a 30-year consultant for the township had done on some particular forms. Ms. Lauressa McNemar had apparently identified some anomalies in a Form U and was unsure how to proceed with informing the appropriate parties. She contacted Ms. Huhn for instruction. Ms. Huhn reported that “she told Lauressa to put it in writing and provide it to her if she has these concerns.” Ms. McNemar complied. It turned out that the anomalies Ms. McNemar identified were not correct and on that basis Mr. Banonis wanted her, basically, fired.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Mr. Banonis has been pushing for a firm called Maser Engineering to take over the work of both Ms. McNemar’s firm and Hanover Engineering relative to the landfill since early this year. So far, he has not been successful. His motion would have given Maser a foot in the door without a competitive bid for a limited time. So he did a hatchet job on Ms. McNemar because she followed Ms. Huhn’s instructions.

By this point Mrs. Yerger’s Zoom connection had failed and she was absent from the meeting, so the vote on the motion was 2-2, causing it to fail. But the hurt was inflicted. Ms. McNemar “retired” from her position the next day.

There is so much to unpack here but I’ll leave it at this:

This is not transparency in government. Pushing substantive motions on issues of importance during the Reports period of a meeting that has already lasted over 3 hours is not how to engage public involvement. Nor does it even encourage robust discussion among fellow Council members. Council, particularly Mrs. Yerger as the Chair, needs to prohibit these kinds of stealth motions during the Reports sections unless they are specifically included in the agenda as intending to be discussed. And the motions need to be included in the packet attached to the agenda so that the public can see them. She needs to gavel them down as out of order and require that they be submitted as agenda items. There was no question that these motions were carefully planned ahead of time and not ad hoc responses to issues that were surfaced during the Council meeting.

On to the October 21 Council meeting. It went just swimmingly. All the votes were 5-0. There was nothing of controversy on the agenda and it wrapped up in less than an hour. So you see, it is possible to be civil and collegial when there’s no real money on the line.

At one point late in the October 7 meeting, Mrs. Stauffer, who had objected to being laughed at earlier in the meeting, said, “I didn’t ask for an apology.” Mr. Banonis replied, “Well, that’s good. Keep your expectations low.”

Oh, we do, Mr. Banonis. We do.

And for the 20 residents who got tired on October 7 and signed off early? Good decision.

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, November 4 – 7 PM

Whose Park Is It, Anyway?

The Great Republican Party Pavilion Rental of 2020 has come and gone. Here’s a brief recap of the event.

Saed Hindash for LehighValley Live
  1. They came. Far more than the 100 on the original rental request. More than the 150 on the revised request. More than the 200 that is the occupancy rate for the pavilion. Possibly as many as 250.
  2. They ranted about law and order, freedom and private property.
  3. They violated multiple ordinances, tried (unsuccessfully) to intimidate the press who were on public property, and required additional work from Public Works and the police department to ensure the safety of the park.
  4. They left, taking their steaming pile of hypocrisy with them, thankfully without any violence although some attendees were clearly armed.

At least one Councilperson attended the event, Mr. Banonis, who apparently did not find it necessary to point out to the organizers of the event that they were, in fact, violating Township ordinances. Perhaps that’s because he’s the Vice-Chair of the group that organized the event but who knows. I don’t know if any other Councilpersons were there.

An email from Carol Schneider on behalf of the Township to Lee Snover of the organizing sponsor dated the day of the event reminded Ms. Snover that the pavilion had a capacity of 200 and that they were expected to adhere to the rules and regulations for use of the pavilion which Ms. Schneider referenced in the letter. She especially pointed out Rule #17, to wit:

No person shall commit any of the following acts within any Township Park:

17. Posting or displaying any sign, banner, or advertisement of a political or commercial nature.

Saed Hindash for LehighValleyLive

Ms. Schneider also reminded Ms. Snover of the requirement to comply with “PRPS guidelines that were previously provided and CDC guidelines.” Needless to say, Rule 17 was flagrantly violated and there was little in the way of mask-wearing or social distancing per PRPS or CDC guidelines within the pavilion itself.

Earlier in the day, Public Works employees were seen cordoning off areas of the park, presumably for parking control, and Chief Barndt had already indicated that additional police personnel had been engaged for the time of the event. None of this comes for free. I believe that Mrs. deLeon has requested information on the exact costs to the Township of this event as well as a review of the regulations for pavilion rentals vs. event approvals for the October 7 meeting.

It is reassuring that there will be follow-up and accountability for how this event was handled. Quite a point was made at the Township Council meeting on September 16 about the fact that this was a “private event” and that there was no difference from other private rentals of the pavilion. Let’s put to rest the concept that this was a private event. A private event is one where specific attendees are invited to attend by the event sponsor, the number of attendees is under the sponsor’s control, and the sponsor has some control and/or responsibility for the behavior of the attendees. Obviously none of these conditions pertained. Ms. Huhn and Mr. Treadwell said they had reviewed prior pavilion rentals and had not found occasions when they had been declined. I wonder how many of those prior rentals required Public Works to make preparations for parking or for the police department to hire additional officers?

All of which brings me to a much larger point. Just whose parks are “public parks” and what is the appropriate way to view their usage? Let’s consider a few points:

1. Who Should Have Priority?

The current Parks and Athletic Facilities Use Policy currently includes this explanation of how use of the parks is to be prioritized: “It is the policy of Lower Saucon Township to prioritize the use of park facilities to non-profit and not-for-profit organizations in the Saucon Valley. The Township has established four (4) categories of users which shall be followed in the allocation and scheduling of park facilities.”

The four categories are: 1) the Township itself, 2) local recreation providers, 3) local civic, business and/or educational groups, and 4) other contracted organizations (basically everybody who doesn’t fall into categories 1, 2, and 3). This seems like a reasonable approach and under this structure, the sponsoring organization for the September 17 event definitely falls into Category 4, the lowest priority requester of facilities.

2. How Do You Determine Appropriateness of Use by a Group?

The Use Policy continues with this information on how it will be determined that groups can use the parks: “The Township reserves the right to set priorities for usage based upon, but not limited to, the following: the number of participants, the residency of the participants, and the overall impact of the group or organization on the recreational needs of the Township.”

What happens when the requesting group misrepresents the size of its group? What happens when the purpose of the event causes widespread community concern about safety issues? What happens when the requesting group has no control over the behavior of its attendees? Shouldn’t these be taken into consideration?

3. Who Pays the Bill?

Township parks are maintained by the tax dollars of the people who live in the township. When the township incurs additional cost for the maintenance and safety of the parks, as happened with the Sept. 17 event, that money comes out of the taxes paid by the citizens if there is no prior agreement with the group using the parks. When a group is permitted to simply “rent the pavilion,” there is no included acknowledgement of the need to pay for additional Township costs unless there is specific damage caused by the event, in which case the Township is entitled to recoup repair costs. When a group requests an Event permit or a Special Events permit, the group accepts responsibility for the additional costs as well as a more stringent liability agreement.

4. What Kinds of Activities Are Undesirable?

I find it interesting that there is a Rule 17 in the Rules and Regulations already. It indicates that at some point the Township Council specifically determined that blatant politicking and obvious commercial activities were not an appropriate use of the parks. In other words, the basis for the refusal of the rental of the pavilion was already inherent in the rules for the use of the pavilion for this particular event. And in fact, Rule 17 makes sense from the township citizen’s perspective. If you have paid tax dollars to maintain a recreational area for you and your community, do you want it to be used for either commercial money-making activities or for partisan political events? Shouldn’t a citizenry be allowed to draw the line at what is permissible on “their” property? Certainly a political event to hear speakers rant does not qualify as a “recreational” use of the property.

An attendee attempts to block the press from photographing the event on public property. Saed Hindash for LehighValleyLive

What Does All This Mean?

I hope that the Township Council takes this event as a learning experience. It seems clear that there has already been considerable thought as to the appropriateness of political activity on public park property. It is not a matter of which political party is sponsoring the event. Public tax dollars should not be used to underwrite the costs of political events of this nature. This type of event should be held on private property where the property owner can assume the liability of any safety issues and the costs of additional preparation and security.

If the Township reviews its policy and decides that political parties should be allowed to use its facilities, then they should be charged a market rate for their use along with the costs of additional services provided by the Township such as parking and enhanced security. The Township should require an Event permit that requires Council approval in order to remove the Township Manager from the awkward position of having to make a judgement of appropriateness. And the Township should be prepared to enforce its prohibitions against “signs, banners and advertisements.” Otherwise it’s just a toothless dragon.

Public Discussion

If you were concerned about how this entire affair was handled or if you would like to see the Council take action to prevent putting citizens in this position again, Mrs. deLeon has requested that this issue be placed on the agenda of the next Township Council meeting on October 7 at 7 PM. If you would like to have your input heard, please plan to be at the Zoom meeting that evening. You can register to attend the meeting here.

Saed Hindash for LehighValleyLive

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, October 7 – 7 PM

Media Resource Links:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/mccloskeys-draw-large-crowd-of-trump-supporters-for-lower-saucon-rally/ar-BB199Pjz?ocid=sms

https://www.lehighvalleylive.com/swingcounty/2020/09/in-trump-stump-rally-lehigh-valley-republicans-cheer-on-the-mccloskeys-who-pointed-guns-at-st-louis-protesters.html

It All Depends on the Definition of “Public”

Last night was another regularly scheduled meeting of the Lower Saucon Township Council. We can dispense with most of the meeting in just a few phrases. Mostly housekeeping. All 5-0 votes or agreed-to tablings or “no action” actions. Township Manager Leslie Huhn was feted as Manager of the Year, an award she won at the LV Chamber of Commerce Mayors’ & Municipal Officials’ Reception Event. Congratulations, Ms. Huhn! All fine and dandy.

Now let’s jump to the elephant in the room – a particularly apt phrase. And this will get long because it’s complicated. The most time was spent on an item that didn’t make it on to the agenda but which has been the topic of significant discussion on social media as well as reporting by local media. That would be the approval of an application for use of the Town Hall Park pavilion by the Northampton County Republican Committee for an event to be held this evening at 5:30, featuring the couple from Missouri who are currently facing Class E felony charges for unlawful use of a weapon back in June.

This issue might never have surfaced at the meeting had it not been for several township residents (your blogger included) who raised important questions during the public comment period about the process that was used to determine that this application should be approved. I have absolutely no interest in debating the politics of this couple nor the event that took place in Missouri nor the reasons why anyone would want to hear from them. Likewise I have no interest in debating the First Amendment issues regarding their appearance. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU for decades, I am well aware of how challenging the Right of Free Speech can be to support at times.

Rather I’d like to look at the administrative processes that led us to this place. By Ms. Huhn’s description the application was received dated Sept. 10 to rent the Town Hall Park pavilion. Such a request for rental is generally handled administratively by the Township Manager. This time, perhaps because she was alert to the sensitive nature of the event, she conferred with Township Solicitor Lincoln Treadwell who advised her to handle it just like any other application for a pavilion rental. They apparently reviewed previous pavilion requests and concluded that those requests were seldom ever denied. So Ms. Huhn approved the request and the only item that needed to come before Council was a request to use amplification at the event. Strangely, this was not an agenda item, but Ms. Huhn explained she would have brought it up during her Township Manager’s report and the amplification was approved on a 5-0 vote.

Questions Raised

But an application for rental of a township pavilion does not address many of the questions raised by residents and Councilmembers deLeon and Stauffer. They included:

Who controls the size of the crowd? The application lists 150 attendees but the Facebook posting for the event around 4 PM yesterday already indicated 58 coming plus 174 interested for a total of 232. The pavilion is only listed as holding 200. And with all the attendant publicity and press coverage, what happens if many more than that show up?

-What about the safety of the attendees and the community if there should be any untoward incidents?

Will there be police coverage and, if so, who pays for it? The event sponsor? The Township? Why should the Township have to pay for that?

Who will enforce CDC mask-wearing requirements? And yes, despite Monday’s court ruling, those requirements still apply.

Who will enforce the Township’s own rules about not posting political signs or banners?

Why did the Township allow itself to undertake this kind of risk? Palmer Township had no problem turning down the event on exactly the grounds that were outlined by Lower Saucon residents.

The Answers Were Mostly Unsatisfying

No one controls the size of the crowd.

No one counts how many people are there or prohibits more from attending.

The police have a plan in place in case of “incidents.” Chief Barndt assured us that there would be extra officers on duty that evening and that their first concern was the community’s safety. Understandably, he did not share specific details of their plan.

The Township will pay for all that overtime and other safety costs.

The group itself will be expected to follow the rules and regulations they were given so, no, no one will be enforcing any of that.

And the Township was required to approve this application because of the First Amendment rights of the applicant, according to Attorney Treadwell.

Now Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

The Township also controls the use of its parks through event and special event permitting. The Township’s website is a confusing mess when it comes to figuring out what the characteristics are that determine a rental, an event or a special event. Under the Parks & Recreation/Forms & Documents section of the website you find two identical entries for Parks & Athletic Facilities Use Policy, both identified as 6/19/13 Ord. 2013-02, an Events Policy dated 12/7/16, and a Special Events Policy dated 3/4/15. You will also find an Event Application (although no Special Event Application) and a Request for Pavilion Rental.

What is clear in all this is that event and special event permitting are both far more stringent processes than just renting a pavilion. They have to be submitted 60 days in advance of the event. All costs incurred by LST shall be reimbursed by the event sponsor. Permit approval is required by Council vote. The sponsor has to submit a plan for crowd control and security and the additional cost of Township police will be borne by the sponsor. There need to be plans for parking, especially for spillover, and there are to be no sales without prior permission. All of which seems to go a long way towards answering many of the residents’ concerns. Of course, the 60 day application schedule would have made approval moot. The pavilion rental reservation will not be accepted less than 7 days prior to the usage date and, wow, isn’t this lucky, the Republican Committee got theirs in exactly 7 days before the usage date even though Palmer Township hadn’t yet turned down their application publicly.

So Why Is This Event Actually a Pavilion Rental Instead?

Well, according to Mr. Banonis, it’s because this “event” is private and not public. It’s being sponsored by the Northampton County Republican Committee and you have to register for it, according to Mr. Banonis. Ergo, it’s private. Except there’s one small problem. Let’s look at that Facebook posting again. See the red box?

I’d almost bet you that says “Public – Hosted by Northampton County GOP”. Nowhere does it say that registration is required. Nowhere does it say that attendance is limited. There’s no link to a registration site and, by the dictionary’s definition, “public” means that the public is invited. Anyone who has ever created a Facebook event knows that you have the choice to make the event public or private or to require registration or any other number of possibilities. This just says “Public.”

Things started to get a bit testy when Mrs. deLeon questioned why this was not defined as an “event” and why it hadn’t required an Event Permit and, therefore, Council approval. Mr. Banonis repeatedly insisted it was “private”. He questioned Mrs. deLeon’s ability to read the Facebook post properly. Later in the evening, one of the residents who had commented earlier called back to report that she had just clicked on “going” on the Facebook post, even though she is neither a Republican nor a member of the sponsoring Committee nor did she have to register.

You may find it interesting that Mr. Banonis was so adamant that this was a “private” event. The fact that he is the vice-chairman of the Northampton County Republican Committee might go a long way to explaining that. Except that curiously later in the discussion when he was asked if there would be other speakers at the event, he replied that he was only there at the Council meeting as a Council member, not as a representative of the event sponsor and that “I don’t know the answer to that question.” But again, when the issue of whether this is a public event or not came up, he quite readily insisted it was a private event and the public couldn’t just show up. It was kind of amazing how that Councilperson hat just slipped on and off his head as the evening progressed. I believe that Mr. Carocci is also a member of that committee but he didn’t mention that.

So Where Does This All Stand?

The event will happen based on the fiction that it’s a private event and the public isn’t invited. The Facebook post about the event has been removed and sadly, the Northampton County Republican Committee website (www.northamptoncountygop.com) is down as of this writing so there’s no information available there.

The Northampton County Republican Committee was incredibly prescient to have gotten their rental request in just under the wire. And it was really lucky that they were directed to apply for a pavilion rental rather than an event permit even though it doesn’t seem this is so much a private rental as it is a public event using Lower Saucon facilities. Good thing Ms. Huhn and Attorney Treadwell didn’t catch that distinction! Saved the event sponsor a lot of money. Of course, it will cost us taxpayers a lot but hey, it happens.

I think the Township needs to do some work on cleaning up its website so that the definition of an Event and a Special Event and the qualifications for a pavilion rental are a lot more clear. That should probably require Council to take a closer look at what those definitions and processes are too.

As for me, I’ll be staying home this evening. I’ll probably put my yard signs away for the evening and leave my outside lights on, just for safety’s sake. I trust the Lower Saucon Police Department but, it can’t hurt.

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, October 7 – 7 PM

More Housekeeping. More Civility.

Last week’s meeting of the Lower Saucon Township council was again devoted primarily to township housekeeping matters. It was a relatively short agenda. The new Junior Council Persons for the 2020-2021 school year were welcomed on board. The execution of a DUI grant was authorized. There was a quarterly report on the Bethlehem landfill, a discussion of LED streetlights, and the submission of the 5-Year Capital Plan (more on that later). On the whole, a well-run meeting with a high level of collegiality and all 5-0 votes.

I especially want to applaud the civility with which the council members approached some disagreement about an upcoming meeting regarding the Creek Road development request. There was no disagreement on the fact that the Council is absolutely opposed to the development of that property as requested. The disagreements came in relation to how best to handle the Township’s response to the developer’s latest legal maneuver. Since the City of Bethlehem is actually the governing zoning authority, Lower Saucon is only an interested party and the sense of Council was that they didn’t want to lose that standing in any future considerations by the City of Bethlehem.

There was extended discussion around the best way to do that. Some supported sending a letter, some supported sending a township solicitor, some supported a Council member attending in person. The rather lengthy discussion was eventually amicably resolved with everyone having an opportunity to state his/her position and be thoroughly heard. On the whole, well done.

However, for those of us playing along at home, it seemed that the entire discussion could have been wrapped up much more expeditiously if the township solicitor, Attorney Treadwell, had taken the time at the beginning of the discussion to simply lay out the various options. Most of the discussion was protracted because Council members didn’t have a clear idea of how the various solutions protected or didn’t protect the Township’s position. If the solicitor had listed the options, along with the resulting township status of each action and the possible outcomes, everyone would have been starting from a common baseline of knowledge of the law regarding the situation.

For example, if he had said, “if you choose option A, your legal status will be X and the possible outcomes will be 1, 2, 3. If you choose option B, your legal status will be Y and the possible outcomes will be 4, 5, 6.” You get the idea. I have observed a number of solicitors over the years and I know that some of them prefer to not enter Council discussions without being directly invited or questioned, but in this situation, it would have been helpful.

Part of my purpose in creating this blog was to provide additional opportunities for Lower Saucon residents to access information they might find helpful and also to encourage more residents to be involved in Township decisions. To that purpose, there were two upcoming plans that I’d like to bring to your attention in case you’d like to read more about either of them

5-Year Capital Plan – 2021-2025

As mentioned above, one agenda item was the submission and review of the 5-Year Capital Plan (2021-2025). This is the plan that lays out anticipated capital expenses (as opposed to operating expenses) for the Township for the next 5 years. Township Finance Director Cathy Gorman, who is a true Township treasure in her custodianship of township finances, has produced a very detailed document explaining the purposes of a 5-year capital plan, the areas that it encompasses, and then all of the numbers to back all of that up. You can find the plan by clicking on the heading of this section.

This Plan is the blueprint for generally big-money expenditures and it should track with Township objectives. The Plan is up for its annual review. It does not get adopted until the regular budget cycle for 2021. As we approach the end of the life of the landfill in the Township, the funding for the Capital Plan becomes an issue of some significance since it has been primarily funded to date by tipping fees.

I urge you to take a look at the Capital Plan, familiarize yourself with the kinds of areas it covers, and provide any questions or input to Council through the normal channels. I had asked Ms. Gorman if she would consider preparing a short, executive-type summary for the Plan for those who are not into serious number-crunching which she agreed to do. I don’t see that on the site yet, but hopefully it will be coming soon. In the meantime, she provides a very clear, detailed explanation of the contents of the Plan.

Saucon Valley 2020 Comprehensive Plan Update

I’ll let the words of the Saucon Valley Partnership’s website listing speak for themselves: “The Saucon Valley Partnership (consisting of Hellertown Borough, Lower Saucon Township and the Saucon Valley School District) will be soliciting feedback, through upcoming hearings, regarding our Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan update and your participation is appreciated. Please take some time to view the interactive story map, click here to access the proposed updates to the growth in our community.”

Again, this is a long-range plan for a broader swath of the Saucon Valley than just the Township. It’s worth a look if you want to see where the area is headed. It’s a very cool site full of fascinating data and hard work envisioning the future of the Saucon Valley area.

The Partnership is taking questions and input from the public. You can find meeting dates and sites on the Township website. It’s another way to keep up-to-date on the possibilities for the future.

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, September 16 – 7 PM

That’s An Improvement

Last week’s Lower Saucon Township Council meeting was as different from July’s meeting as night is from day. This month saw a dramatic improvement in the communication among the council members.

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

At the August 19 meeting, there was no mansplaining, no use of motions as a bludgeoning tool, no rude interruptions or snide remarks. It was actually quite enjoyable for those of us citizens who join in to observe what’s happening in the township. Not only that, but there were even outbreaks of collegiality. There were two occasions that I observed where one councilperson ask for clarification or explanation and the answers were freely provided. Likewise, there was an offer that one councilperson would update another who might possibly have to miss an upcoming committee meeting.

There was excellent collaboration on the questions surrounding a request for further funding of a new ladder truck, a discussion that ended in a unanimous agreement to table the request until the September 2 meeting. There is apparently some concern over the painting of the ladder on the truck, both as to color and markings and a conflict with what the consultant had recommended. Mr. Banonis also raised the question as to whether workers’ compensation coverage could be compromised if the consultant’s recommendations were not followed. There was a thorough and civil discussion of the various ramifications and, at the appropriate point in the discussion, the motion to table was made.

I might be inclined to posit that Wednesday’s meeting went smoothly because it was, primarily, what I would call a housekeeping meeting. Most of the business items were straightforward – an extension of the disaster emergency declaration, the advertising of a public meeting and a request for bid for a water line installation, an extensive report on the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias by Township Manager Leslie Huhn with some further timely discussion of storm water regulations. The only item that seemed to stir significant passion was a rezoning request by Creek Investors LLC, but all of the council members agreed that they were still in opposition to the request. Every vote ended up being unanimous – 5-0.

I’d also like to point out that, as we are all learning, Zoom is not the most congenial method for conducting a meeting. It is very difficult to read another person’s body language or be certain when a person has stopped talking. All of the interpersonal cues that we rely on for smooth communication are made more difficult because of the inherent friction in the Zoom app, not to mention the technological difficulties that rear their ugly heads. At this last meeting, it seemed that the council members were much more aware of those obstacles and more careful that interruptions that may be caused by the drawbacks of the medium not be interpreted as intentional rudeness. Patience and grace in these difficult circumstances are excellent additions to the meetings.

Along those lines, I’ve noticed that Mr. Carocci has not been providing a video feed in the last couple of meetings. I don’t know if that’s a technology issue. If it isn’t, I think it would be helpful for all of us attending by Zoom if as least all of the council members could provide a video link. Being able to see our elected representatives is a plus. Of course if it’s a technology issue, well, such is life these days.

Perhaps as a reward for the improved cooperation at the August meeting, the council adjourned at 8:15 PM, a tribute to efficiency and, I suspect, no significant developer issues on the agenda. Kudos to all. I look forward to September’s meeting in the same spirit.

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, September 2 – 7 PM

Is This Any Way to Lead a Township?

Welcome to Saucon Shenanigans, a blog created to share my observations on the workings of the Lower Saucon Township Council with a wider audience in the township than the 50 or so citizens who Zoom in to Council meetings. In the days of robust local newspaper coverage, this would have been unnecessary because the Morning Call would have carried reports on Council meetings, decisions, disagreements and items of interest. But those days are long gone. The Call’s coverage is sporadic to non-existent. I’ve seen reporting by Bryan Hay from WFMZ occasionally and Josh Popichak does heroic work in trying to keep up with all the events in Saucon Valley for Saucon Source. But hey, the more information that’s out there, the better.

I’ll be clear. I am not a journalist or a reporter. I’m a blogger which means I get to share my perspective and I have no requirement to be “fair and balanced” as our friends at Fox News so laughably used to claim to be. What I will be is honest. I’ve chosen to do this because if, as my fellow Lehigh alum Marty Baron so boldly proclaims in the masthead of his paper, “democracy dies in darkness,” then my sense is that things are getting pretty dim and murky over there at Town Hall.

The closest government to a citizen is the local township council, board of supervisors, city council, what-have-you. They pass laws and make zoning decisions and appropriate your money in ways that have a direct impact on your day-to-day quality of life. But how much do you really know about them? Or what they do? And how do you find out? Until it directly affects you, most people have no idea.

Like most people, I didn’t pay close attention as long as it didn’t intrude on my life too much. I moved here shortly after Lower Saucon approved a .25% increase in the EIT to acquire open space, which I thought was a great idea. The township office people have always answered my questions politely and professionally when I had to call and my one or two interactions with the police were satisfactory. The newsletter was interesting. But then last winter things seemed to get weird.

Welcome to the Circus!

I knew from reporting in the Call and Saucon Source that my neighbor, Kristen Stauffer, had been appointed to a vacancy on the Township Council by the Court because the Council had been unable to come to a decision on its own. I thought that was fine. Kristen is a bright young woman, well-educated, a good neighbor and I was glad to see a younger person putting herself out there to serve the public. Fresh thinking is always a good thing to inject into the body politic. In fact, I had voted for her in the November election.

Then I learned that there was some action afoot to deprive her of the seat into which she had just been duly sworn. There was going to be an attempt to force the Court to have a do-over. That seemed strange and unwarranted. So, despite the fact that I was recovering from surgery and wasn’t supposed to be out and about, I hauled myself over to the township building for my first in-person council meeting, a specially called meeting on Friday, February 28.

What I witnessed shocked and disgusted me.

For a public forum of elected – or in the case of two of the Council members, appointed – officials, the behavior of several of them was rude, boorish, and arrogant. For whatever reason, Councilpersons Jason Banonis and Tom Carocci exhibited an intensely antagonistic attitude towards Mrs. Stauffer who said virtually nothing during the meeting, having basically been instructed not to by the solicitor. As best I could tell, the source of this antagonism was their anger that the judge had chosen her for the vacant position rather than one of the other applicants. The entire purpose of this specially-called meeting was to encourage the Court to investigate some recently-discovered rule that one of the unsuccessful applicants for the vacancy had dug up which the failed applicant claimed could potentially require a do-over of the entire process. The animosity at Mrs. Stauffer’s appointment was so thick you could cut it with a knife and the disrespect shown to her was insulting and revolting.

The end result of all this posturing and preening and waste of taxpayer money was that the judge reaffirmed that Mrs. Stauffer had been appropriately chosen. Gee, I was stunned (sarcasm intended).

Perhaps It Gets Better

After such an unfortunate introduction to the behavior at the Council meeting, I decided that perhaps it was a one-off. Everyone was having a bad night. Once the question of Mrs. Stauffer’s seat was settled, they would return to more professional, collegial behavior. And perhaps it would be a good idea to watch more closely what was unfolding in my township.

Enter Covid-19.

After a cancelled meeting on March 18 followed by a conference call to approve a disaster declaration for the Township, council meetings moved to a Zoom format beginning April 1 and since then I have attended all the meetings. The good news is that the Zoom format has apparently increased the amount of public attendance at the meetings, although most people do not participate. The bad news is that the behavior has not improved. In fact, at times, it has been even more egregious. The good news is – more people are seeing it first hand.

In the seven meetings since then I have observed flat-out bullying, consummate rudeness, shouting down opposing ideas, the use of Roberts’ Rules of Order as a cudgel, political pontificating that had nothing to do with an agenda item, insulting mansplaining and enough hypocrisy to choke a hippopotamus. After Mr. Carocci bragged that the June 17 meeting resulted in all 5-0 votes, implying an environment of equanimity, this past Wednesday’s meeting put the lie to all that putative harmony.

Why Does It Matter?

You may think, why does it matter? There are always people who behave rudely to others. As long as the work gets done, that’s all that counts.

My reply is – it matters for a number reasons.

  1. It intimidates people from participating. Not everyone enjoys the experience of being belittled or demeaned or mansplained for voicing a position different from the township leadership or simply for asking a question. Nor is everyone equipped with the verbal skills to present their ideas cogently in the face of a barrage of rudeness. It takes a lot of experience to maintain your calm when someone is distorting your words or attempting to shut you up. Hence, many people choose instead to remain silent.
  2. It inhibits the consideration of alternative solutions. When the answers provided by a select few council members are presented as the only option and any alternative possibilities are dismissed, ignored or treated as an annoyance, gradually fewer and fewer residents are going to be inclined to offer other ideas. The best governmental systems function with maximum input from people with different types of expertise and different perspectives who can perhaps see alternative solutions or effective modifications to proposed processes that are not as obvious to elected leaders who may be too far in the weeds to see other solutions. Or perhaps the leaders are stuck in “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ve never done it that way” mode. I’ve heard those reasons way too often already in Council discussions.
  3. It blocks the sharing of important information with the public. In my opinion this is the most important consequence of these behaviors. Wednesday’s meeting provided a prime example of how easily this is accomplished.

A Case Study

There were two openings on the Zoning Hearing Board. There were five applicants who had submitted resumes which were passively posted along with the meeting agenda on the township’s website. Apparently it is unusual for there to be an overage of applicants for positions on township boards so in the past, for example, the sole applicant for one open position would just be rubber-stamped through after Leslie Huhn, Township Manager, verified the person met the minimum qualifications.

With this many applicants, Councilperson Priscilla deLeon said she had a few questions for the applicants. Council President Sandra Yerger immediately said there would be no questioning of the applicants. Mrs. deLeon objected. She was informed that she could have read their resumes found in her Council packet which Mrs. deLeon said she had done. There was an unwarranted snipe from Mr. Carocci about ”not doing your homework,” a baseless and insulting comment.

What followed is what I have come to describe as the Abbott and Costello two-step. Mr. Banonis quickly made a motion to not permit questioning of the applicants and Mr. Carocci immediately seconded. This is how Roberts’ Rules of Order can be misused and it’s a pattern that is repeated over and over again in this Council. This leads to a motion being on the floor designed to quash the sharing of information with the public. Public comments that followed supported having the questioning.

Mrs. Yerger raised concerns about the amount of time questioning would take and the fact that applicants had not been alerted to the possibility of questioning. A member of the public (full disclosure: me) offered an alternative work-around that would have addressed her concerns. The suggestion was ignored – not discussed, ignored. Mrs. Yerger then put forward the time-worn “we’ve never done it that way” explanation. And then, in what is always the final move of the Abbott and Costello two-step, Mr. Carocci loudly demanded that the question be called, cutting off discussion. Although kudos go to Ms. Huhn and, sometimes, Mrs. Yerger for usually trying to interrupt this freight train by at least checking if there are other residents waiting to speak. The motion to prohibit questions passed.

Mr. Banonis immediately, in the execution of the second two-step of the evening, moved to appoint Ted Eichenlaub and David Jauregi to the vacancies on the Zoning Hearing Board. Mr. Carocci seconded. The appointments were not made separately to have allowed discussion of either of the candidate’s qualifications. They were lumped together – all or nothing. There was no opportunity to nominate someone else for approval. And there was no, NO discussion of the comparative merits of the five candidates who applied.

As a quick overview, Mr. Eichenlaub seems to have been an investment banker most of his life working in New York City and Washington, DC. He listed no previous involvement with the township. Mr. Jauregui is in the semiconductor/IT business as an engineer. His resume also listed no prior involvement with the township although he was one of the failed applicants for the Council seat that Mrs. Stauffer holds and he was the person that raised the objections with the Court in the attempt to derail her appointment. George Gress is a lifelong resident of Lower Saucon, a former member of the Township Council and former president of the Se-Wy-Co Fire Company. He’s been a volunteer firefighter and is currently a Board member of the Lower Saucon Authority. Mr. Nicholas Lynn is a professional working in the construction industry. He specializes in HVAC and holds a number of trade certifications as well as serving on the Sheet Metal Licensing Board in Allentown where he consults with zoning officers on sheet metal codes. Ms. Donna Louder is also a lifelong resident of Lower Saucon, a former member of Township Council and listed involvement with a number of Township committees.

I’d love to tell you more or explain how the Council made its decision on the two it chose, but unfortunately, these descriptions were only available from the information on their resumes which Mr. Carocci indicated was all the information we needed to know. And I can’t tell you why he and Mr. Banonis were so set on having Mr. Eichenlaub and Mr. Jauregui appointed either, because there was no discussion of why they were preferable.

What I can tell you is that over the next several years there will be lots of zoning and development issues coming before first, the Zoning Hearing Board and then, the Council, especially with the future closing of the landfill and the need to find new sources of revenue to replace what currently comes from the landfill. So it might not be a bad idea to keep a careful watch over what gets proposed for zoning and development.

What Comes Next?

After giving the matter careful consideration, I’ve concluded that there appears to be a lot of opportunity for steamrolling in the future as this Council conducts Township business. That being the case, I thought it would be worthwhile to commit 22 Wednesday evenings a year to watching the events unfold more closely rather than just waiting for minutes to be published or for a newsletter to appear. So that’s what I’ll be doing – attending, whether by Zoom or in person if this pandemic ever ends, as many Council meetings as possible and reporting in my blog shortly thereafter.

I’ll be using 3 guiding principles:

  • Watch what they do, not what they say.
  • Trust, but verify.
  • Follow the money.

My hope is that Council behavior will become more civil, collegial and professional as the year progresses, leading to better governance and better decisions. Increased transparency would be an improvement also. And I hope that more residents will feel empowered to speak up when they see things that trouble them or even if they just have questions.

If it doesn’t work, Election Day for three of the members is November 2, 2021.

Watch this space.

Next scheduled Council meeting – Wednesday, August 19 – 7 PM