Last night I attended what I thought would be a regularly scheduled meeting of the Lower Saucon Township Council. What I witnessed instead was a thinly disguised excuse to do campaign politicking, to demonize a neighboring borough official and allow at least one resident to throw a very public temper tantrum. What a circus Lower Saucon has become!
To the details
First, the Council approved the new 5-year police contract. Virtually no discussion. Vote: 5-0.
Next up was the approval of the Covid bonuses for the union police officers which really needed to be done before Election Day so no one could claim the Township Council didn’t love their police. You’ll recall these were the bonuses that couldn’t be approved previously because, even though Mr. Banonis had said their payment had nothing to do with the police contract, Mr. Banonis had also said they should wait till after the contract was completed to be approved. Hunh? Anyway, when Mrs. deLeon again raised the objection to how this had been handled, saying it felt like the bonuses had been withheld till contract completion to exert leverage, Mr. Carocci hastened to say that Mrs. deLeon was disrespecting the police officers by suggesting that they could be influenced by such a maneuver. Wait – doesn’t withholding approval of the bonuses till after contract completion imply exactly that same disrespect?
And then, just to show what great guys they are, they decided to up the bonuses to $3,000 instead of $2,500 like everyone else got because, hey, when it’s not your money, who cares? It’s coming from the federal government and we all know we have nothing to do with supporting that. Anyway, supposedly since the checks will be cut on the same day as the other bonus checks for the other employees, it’s all a wash anyway, right?
Well, no, it’s not. What it’s about is how you treat the people who work for you. If there was any disrespect shown, it was by the Council not approving the police bonuses at the same time as all the others. The bonuses are supposedly for showing up and doing your job during the very stressful time of Covid. No other qualification necessary – you just had to show up and do your job – with money coming from American Rescue Plan funds which are available. Their handling of it sent a very clear message that the bonuses for police were on the table during contract negotiations, meaning that the bonus wasn’t solely predicated on your doing your job during Covid because they already knew the police did that back on October 6 when they approved the other bonuses. For police officers, it was also predicated on agreeing to a new 5-year contract.
Even if that wasn’t explicitly stated – and it wasn’t – you’d have to be blind not to see the implication. From a human resource management perspective, this is crappy practice. In addition, we’ve now created a two-level caste system for the bonuses. Again, really shoddy HR practice.
And while we’re talking about bonuses, let’s highlight Mrs. deLeon’s suggestion that the fire company volunteers should perhaps be receiving bonuses also. After all, they had to do the same things the police officers did – respond to dwellings where they had no idea if someone had Covid, enter the buildings not knowing what they’d find, treat people who might have been infected. Why don’t they deserve bonuses too? Maybe not as much since they’re part-time volunteers, but how about $500 each just for showing up last year? That’s all the employees had to do to get their bonuses.
Somewhere in here we also got a cute little bit of performative theater from Mr. Carocci when he asked an audience member, presumably a police officer (I couldn’t see who it was), if he was happy with the new contract? Oh yes, sir. And was he happy with the $3,000 bonus? Oh yes, sir. What else did you expect him to say in front of a room full of residents and the Police Chief?
Then we had an update from Ms. Huhn on the Active Transportation Plan which Mr. Banonis went to great pains to point out she had moved up from the previous December 1 date at his request because . . . why? since, as Ms. Huhn acknowledged, none of this work can happen until next Spring. Maybe to get it on the agenda before Election Day? But anyway, Public Works is going to draw up plans for some of the items in the first phase of the Plan which is a good thing.
Now comes the most ridiculous agenda item – Lower Saucon Fire Rescue – Update on Fire Calls in Steel City. This was not an update. Ty Johnson, fire chief, simply presented the same data that had been presented before the vote in the summer to name LSFR the sole fire services provider for LST. The data only covered January through May 2021. Nothing new. Nothing different. And if it was new, it was unreadable in the tiny type on the Powerpoint slide.
But it did provide another opportunity to dump on the Steel City Fire Company and our neighbors in Hellertown. Mr. Banonis took the opportunity of this agenda item to then share some hearsay about something Tom Rieger, President of Hellertown Borough, had said in a meeting about an LSFR vehicle racing through the borough at high speeds which then gave Mr. Johnson the opportunity to complain that Mr. Rieger had not contacted him about it and wasn’t that awful. You get the idea.
Here’s the point. The information about whatever Mr. Rieger said was off-topic for the agenda item. It’s also, frankly, none of the LST Council’s business. As both the Council and the Fire Company never miss an opportunity to explain, LSFR is an independent entity, not controlled or managed by the township. It’s between LSFR and Mr. Rieger to work out.
But it also provided the opportunity for the real fireworks display of the night. Township resident Donna Louder spoke to make some complaint about Tom Rieger and his connection to someone who’s connected to the Steel City Fire Company who owns Quest Diagnostics putting a campaign sign on his business and violating 501(c)3 requirements and who knows what else. It was pretty incoherent. Mrs. Yerger informed Mrs. Louder that she was incorrect on her 501(c)3 claims as did I. Mrs. Louder than continued to rant about contacting the IRS and the Attorney General about Steel City and demanding an investigation, despite Mrs. Yerger’s admonitions to tone it down. Mrs. Louder then verbally attacked Mrs. Stauffer when she entered the conversation with questions about what specifically Mrs. Louder was referring to at which time things really spiraled out of control with Mrs. Louder yelling and screaming at Mrs. Stauffer. Eventually, she stopped after Mrs. Yerger repeatedly told her she was out of order. But later in the meeting she continued to be disruptive.
Here’s the pertinent question for Mrs. Yerger. Why do you put up with this? What happened to the 3-minute limit for residents to speak? Why wasn’t that enforced? You’re quick enough to enforce it during Public Comment. And when Mrs. Louder refused to settle down, why wasn’t she removed from the meeting? Chief Barndt was right there. At your request, he could have removed her. Other councils and school boards have done this.
Perhaps if she had been removed, she would not have felt entitled to continue the harassment of Mrs. Stauffer after the meeting to the extent that Chief Barndt did have to intervene. Does any of this have to do with the fact that Mrs. Louder’s husband is a Lower Saucon police officer and was there?
The point is all of this could have been avoided by not putting something on the agenda that was only a rehash of prior information and of no particular value.
Anyway, two small glimmers of hope – Ms. Huhn reported that the administrative staff had visited Hellertown to view their audio-visual set-up for livestreaming council meetings and that they would also be visiting North Whitehall Township. Baby steps. And Chief Barndt found an organization that will take the Township’s outdated ballistic vests and deconstruct and recycle them for the cost to the Township of shipping them to the organization. That’s a very cool solution. Unfortunately it got derailed by Attorney Alan Mege who wanted the Council to consider donating them to the county courthouse because they are short of equipment. There were a number of concerns raised about donating expired safety equipment and the liabilities it might raise for the township. Nevertheless, the motion to ship the vests was withdrawn while the Township looks into the possibilities. Hopefully this will be cleared up soon. Deconstructing and recycling seems like a very good option.
So that’s what you missed last night. Nothing particularly of value but a lot of insight into the township’s dysfunction that is overseen by two council members who are running for re-election. Is this really the kind of local government you want for the next 2-4 years? Keep it in mind before you vote on Tuesday.
ONE MORE THING BEFORE WE GO . . .
Why is Tom Carocci also on the ballot for Constable? As Kenan Thompson would say, “What’s up with that?”
General Election – Tuesday, November 2, 2021 – Polls open 7 AM to 8 PM. Mail-in ballots due in by 8 PM at Northampton County Court House
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, November 17, 2021 – 6:30 PM at Town Hall