In the last three weeks since the outrageous Lower Saucon Township Council meeting on January 19, there have been so many unanswered questions raised, questions that the LST Council hasn’t deigned to address. But the biggest one is:
Before we get to those though, let’s do a brief recap of what has transpired.
January 19 – Lower Saucon Township Council, by votes of 4-1 (Mrs. deLeon dissenting each time) and completely ignoring the expressed desires of residents who attended the meeting in person and objected to the actions, passes three resolutions to:
- Decline to sign a new agreement with Hellertown Area Library (HAL) and instead give them a “donation” of $50,000 minus the amount already paid for the January 2022 extension. This equals less than half the total amount budgeted for HAL in the 2022 LST budget.
- Direct the LST solicitor to begin litigation against HAL if they refuse to provide services to LST residents after the extended MOU expires on January 31.
- Cut a check to the Southern Lehigh Library for $50,000 as a “donation” for the Southern Lehigh Library to provide services to LST residents.
January 25 – HAL Board of Directors declines the LST check.
January 26 — Lower Saucon Township Manager Leslie Huhn resigns effective February 25.
— Hellertown Borough (HB) Council meets in a special meeting to hear comments from the public (not limited to Hellertown residents) on the HAL situation. In the HB Council presentation, Mayor Heintzelman rebuts the distorted timeline presented at the January 19 LST meeting, providing dates and times of communications among LST, HB and HAL personnel on agreement negotiation. The HB Council instructs its administrative staff to immediately create an agreement between only HB and HAL to be ready for adoption by February 1.
January 30 – At a special meeting, the HAL Board passes a motion to continue to provide full library services “which are under our control” to all LST residents through February 28 while negotiations with LST Council representatives continue. These services are provided without any additional funding from LST (i.e. for free). The letter explaining this is posted to the LST website.
January 31 – HB Council meets in a special meeting and adopts a 2-year agreement between HB and HAL to provide for library services to Hellertown Borough only. The agreement provides funding for the Library at the already-budgeted rate for 2022 and adds a supplementary funding of $75,000 to the Library from Hellertown’s American Rescue Plan funding.
February 3 — HB delivers $75,000 supplemental payment check to HAL.
— LST Councilperson Zavacky posts a statement on township letterhead on the township’s Facebook page and website reporting a meeting scheduled for Feb. 4 between “LST and HAL Board leadership” as well as the intention to “include related information, updates, and documentation for our residents and fellow Council members to review for the upcoming LST Council Meeting on February 16, 2022.”
February 6 – HAL Board of Directors meets and revises by-laws, removing all LST-appointed Board members effective immediately. They recommend appointment of Pam Hahn to fifth Hellertown seat on HAL Board.
February 7 – HB Council approves HAL by-laws changes and appoints Pam Hahn to the fifth HB-controlled Board seat. The HAL Board now has the full complement of five Hellertown Borough-appointed members. Two additional members who are residents of the Saucon Valley School District area can still be appointed by the HAL Board.
The Council also instructs its Borough administration to suspend all Intergovernmental Committee and Partnership participation by Hellertown Borough with LST until such time when a formal review can be conducted and presented to HB Council for further action. Subsequently, Hellertown declines to participate in the February 9 Saucon Valley Partnership meeting.
So that’s where things stand as of February 9. So many questions.
First and foremost,
Why did the LST Council take the actions it did on January 19?
Why did they refuse to sign the new agreement?
What objections did they have to the agreement?
Why did they repeatedly refuse to share those objections publicly with the residents?
Why did they repeatedly put the onus on the Solicitor as being the one who was raising concerns but then not require him to explain what those specific concerns were?
Why was the reporting of the agreement negotiation communications with HB Council and HAL so seriously distorted?
Why did LST Council put the newest and least experienced councilperson in charge of negotiations?
Why did they let her make the motion that resulted in destruction of the agreement with the Library after only 16 days on the job?
Why after 8 months of agreement negotiations was there suddenly a big rush to make this decision on January 19? Why were these concerns not raised earlier?
Why did they choose to ignore all of the comments by the public on January 19 that supported a continued agreement with the Library?
Why was the only emailed comment that was read into the record one that was in opposition to continuing the agreement with the Library?
Why weren’t any of the other emails received by Council members read into the record?
If there were serious concerns about the quality of the services being provided to the residents, why was there no polling of the residents during the 8 months of negotiations to determine what those concerns might be? Or public hearings? Or small group meetings? Or surveys? Or any other form of acquiring resident input?
Why was there no consideration of what an alternative solution to the (undisclosed) concerns might be short of refusing to sign a new agreement and offering only a “donation”?
Why was LST Council unaware of what the ramifications would be if HAL refused the check?
Why did LST Council authorize a check for library services to Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) when they
— apparently had no idea if SLPL was interested in or willing to accept it?
— apparently had no idea if SLPL was legally able to accept it?
Why did LST Council not consider the effect on other intergovernmental relationships and partnerships with Hellertown Borough before taking the unilateral action of refusing the tripartite agreement?
Why did LST Council authorize litigation against HAL when the expiration of the agreement on January 31 severed any legal requirements on the part of HAL to provide library services to a township that was not paying for those services, especially in the possible case that HAL might reject the donation check (as they did)?
Why didn’t LST Council which includes two attorneys and its solicitor know that was the case?
Why has LST Council not found this issue important enough to its residents to have scheduled a special Council meeting(s) sooner than its regularly scheduled February 16 meeting? Hellertown Borough has already held two special meetings in the meantime to resolve the issues that LST forced on them.
Why was LST Council not aware of what the possible ramifications would be on library access for its residents if HAL chose to decline the “donation” check? Why did they not learn that from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) prior to taking the action on January 19?
Why is LST Council implying that it’s the lack of response from the OCL that is delaying resolution of these issues?
In short, WHY DID THE FOUR MEMBERS ON LST COUNCIL DO THIS? AND WHAT WAS THE RUSH?
What can you do?
Keep asking questions by email to Council members.
Keep raising questions in social media.
Keep sending letters to the print media.
Put a sign on your lawn demanding they fully fund the library (you can get them at the library).
Show up at the February 16 Council meeting and ask any or all of the above questions.
Be aware – if they refuse to put the library on the agenda, you’ll have to wait until the very end of the meeting to ask questions about it as a “non-agenda” item. Stick around.
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 PM – Township Hall
As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.