A Council Quickie – and a Serious Question

The May 19, 2021, Lower Saucon Township Council meeting was even shorter than the one on May 5. The meeting was gaveled in at 6:30 and adjourned at 7:10 PM. It amounted to a passel of resolutions to thank Saucon Valley area high school students for being junior council members, the approval of a “blessing boxes” program in two parks, approval of summer hours for the administrative staff, the hiring of a cleaning service and the submission of a grant application. That was it except for the usual housekeeping of approving minutes and financial reports.

A brief word about the blessing boxes. The program was approved but there is currently no timeline for their installation at Town Hall Park and Steel City Park. I’m sure when that’s nailed down there will be more information coming about this volunteer opportunity for township residents to help their neighbors who are in need. More details will be provided when there is an implementation date.

Since we have some extra time in this issue, let’s make a trip back to the 2021 budget that was proposed in October and adopted in December. Specifically, it might be interesting to find out what’s happening with those footnotes that were added to the budget relative to the funding of the fire department.

To refresh your memory, Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci seemed almost apoplectic back at the October 7 meeting that the fire companies were not moving fast enough on their merger in spite of the ongoing pandemic and the fact that both businesses and governments were still essentially shut down. To “incentivize” completion of the merger, Mr. Carocci proposed three footnotes to be added to the 2021 budget that would supposedly make the merger happen faster. The footnotes were approved as part of the budget approval on December 16, 2020, over the objections of Mrs. deLeon and Mrs. Stauffer.

The footnotes were as follows:

“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 [sic] allocated funds in [sic] 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 [sic] 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.

2021 Lower Saucon Township Budget – http://www.lowersaucontownship.org/pdf/2021final.pdf

In case you haven’t noticed, we have now passed both the April 2 and the May 1 deadlines and will have passed the June 1 deadline before the next scheduled Council meeting on June 16. Back at the April 7 Council meeting, Mrs. Stauffer raised the question of what was happening with the merger and had it been completed by the April 1 deadline. The reply was, in a roundabout answer from Solicitor Treadwell, “no” and she was “tut-tut”-ed by Mr. Carocci that it really wasn’t necessary to discuss that at the time. Nevertheless, Mrs. Stauffer made a motion to void the footnotes to the 2021 budget since they were clearly not going to be enforced as they had been passed. Her motion failed 2-3 with only Mrs. deLeon joining her to vote in favor.

So here we find ourselves coming up on a June 16 Council meeting, two weeks after the final June 1 deadline that said that the fire companies would receive zero-zilch-nada funding for the 2021 fiscal year. What exactly is going on? What was all the bluff and bluster back in October using the funding cudgel to force the merger by April 1 if there was no intention of actually enforcing it? The funding of the fire company hasn’t been on the agenda at all during 2021. It’s been essentially ignored.

Are Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci, with Mrs. Yerger playing “me too,” really planning on defunding the fire companies? Is that really in the best interests of the Township? Or was it all just empty posturing?

Regardless of the answer, is this really what anyone would call effective leadership?

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 6:30 PM

Next Township Elections – Tuesday, November 2, 2021

No, You Cannot Mute Your Fellow Councilperson Because She’s Objecting to What You’re Saying

*SIGH* As I sat through the April 7 Lower Saucon Township Council meeting, I was thinking how lovely it was that Spring had arrived and that most of the items under discussion at the meeting were about various activities returning to some semblance of normal and of the parks opening back up. I was thinking that commenting on this meeting would be a refreshing change from the usual snide remarks and ugly behavior that has come to be typical. Boy, was I wrong!

Let’s start with the pleasant part of the evening. McMahon Associates updated their work with the township on the WalkWorks Grant. They are at the point where they are soliciting input from the residents on ways that we can make the township more accessible to walking, biking and other means of transportation besides cars. They have created a website at traisr.net/LST where you can enter your suggestions for improved walk/bike-ability and pinpoint the location on the map. There are about 15 comments there, as of this writing. I’m sure there are many others who have noticed places where changes would be helpful in improving access and safety. I encourage everyone to take a look and provide your comments now. The entire project must be completed by September, so early input is a good idea if you want your contributions considered.

And yes, Jason Banonis, I’m sure that this is exactly what McMahon has done on their previous projects, and I’m sure it has worked well. But as someone who has worked successfully in the same industry for 13 years, I know that any consultant worth her salt is open to suggestions for improvements or other ideas for consideration as Ms. Manbeck, the McMahon consultant, acknowledged. Your knee-jerk defense of McMahon’s approach was unnecessary and fairly pathetic, probably causing people to wonder why someone with no background in that area would need to jump to their defense. So nice job – you undercut exactly what you were trying to bolster.

On to other pleasant things. The Community Center will be conducting a truncated summer recreation program, limited mostly by ongoing Covid concerns. But it will happen, as opposed to last summer when it had to be completely canceled. The Hellertown-Lower Saucon Chamber received approval for a Movie Night at Town Hall Park on July 23. The Township will be applying for a couple of grants to assist with the improvement of trails in Polk Valley Park.

There was extensive discussion of the possibility of implementing a feral cat TNR (trap, neutral, release) program in the Township in response to some significant concerns that had been raised at the February meeting by Laura Civitella. Ms. Huhn provided quite a bit of information on the types of programs available in the Valley and what other municipalities are doing to cope with this difficult issue. It was clear that there will be ongoing discussion as to the cost and feasibility of implementing a program and Ms. Civitella seemed quite happy with the township’s response to her concerns.

Photo by Petr Ganaj on Pexels.com

From here on, things go fairly rapidly downhill, so if you don’t want to muck around in the swamp, you can stop reading and pretend that LST is well-run by a group of mature civic leaders. Of course, you’d be wrong.

First, Tom Carocci tries to amend the March meeting minutes to report something that wasn’t actually said. Mrs. deLeon had stated that Ms. Hecker was not on the Hellertown Area Library board when the current director was appointed. This was apparently determined after the meeting to be incorrect. So Tom tries to get the minutes changed to say that Ms. Hecker WAS on the HAL board when the current director was appointed. For one thing, this had exactly zero importance in relation to the topic under discussion at the time and, second, you cannot amend meeting minutes to say something that wasn’t said. Meeting minutes have to accurately reflect what was stated. If what was stated is incorrect, that point can be made at the next meeting and then the minutes of that subsequent meeting (the one on April 7) will reflect the correction of the fact without changing the accurate reporting of the original meeting. Nevertheless, Mrs. Yerger was about to accept the incorrectly corrected minutes when Attorney Treadwell intervened to prevent the error. Does anyone even bother to read Robert’s Rules of Order except for the Solicitor? And me?

Next up we have another in the continuing saga of appointing people to township boards without providing any information to the community. There was a vacancy created on the Planning Committee. I believe a couple of people applied for the position. Ms. Huhn, as part of her manager’s report, recommended that Doug Woosnam be appointed to the position. The Council voted him in 5-0. Here’s the problem. I believe it was Ms. Huhn who said that the applications from the applicants were included in “your council packet.” But they were not included in any of the material posted online with the agenda. I know. I looked through all 146 pages at least 2 times, partly because I was trying to find out what the gentleman’s last name was since no one bothers to spell it out for listeners or put a slide up on the screen. And it’s not on the agenda as an item for the meeting. This was the same problem with the person appointed to the Library Board last month – no information, not even a spelling of her name, which turns out to be Sara Phillips, not Sharon Whoever. 

I’m wondering what the difference is between the “council packet” and what we get to see online. With the exception of items that will be handled in an executive session, why should there be any difference? Perhaps you’re wondering the same thing, Gentle Reader. I’ll ask.

And now things get really ugly. In a standard maneuver, Jason or Tom (in this case Jason) raises an issue very late in the meeting under the “reports” section that rightfully should have been discussed as an agenda item. But by not making it an agenda item, he can be sure that no one he’s about to attack will be able to respond to the issue because they have no idea it’s coming. You’ll recall the same tactic was used back in October regarding the directive to the fire companies to complete their merger or risk losing funding – introduced late in the meeting in the “reports” section, not as a separate agenda item, no time for the fire companies to prepare a response. 

This time it’s about the recent Library Board meeting following the Township’s informing the Library Board that they were going to solicit additional applicants and prior to the Township’s voting on adding Sara Phillips instead of the Board’s recommended nominee, Janie Hecker, to the Board to represent LST. Apparently the Library Board allowed Janie Hecker to remain on the Board through the Feb. 23 meeting since no replacement for her had been appointed, even though her term had officially expired on December 31, 2020. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that they figured the LST council would do what they’ve always done and appoint the person that the HAL Board had recommended, so there would be no lapse in representation. But the Council didn’t (see last month’s Saucon Shenanigans). They appointed Ms. Phillips instead and so now Jason’s shorts are all in a twist. The Library is showing “disregard for the taxpayer and the money that’s being provided to them.” He doesn’t know how they can do this. “Why doesn’t this organization follow basic parliamentary rules?” I don’t know, Jason. Why doesn’t the township council do the same? (see above)

In case you’re confused, here’s the timeline, roughly:

  • HAL Board tells LST they recommend Janie Hecker for the position (sometime before LST meeting on Mar. 3)
  • LST (not clear on whose authority) informs HAL Board that they will be advertising and seeking additional applicants
  • HAL Board cannot hold new year organizational meeting because appointment is up in the air
  • Feb. 23 – HAL Board holds regular meeting, allowing Janie Hecker to participate
  • Mar. 3 – LST Council decides not to accept HAL’s recommendation and appoints Sara Phillips instead
  • Mar. 23 – Ms. Phillips attends first HAL Board meeting as LST representative
  • April 7 – Tom says that all of this means that LST is being held in “low disregard” and what are they doing for the $100,000 per year that the Township gives them.

Now all of this might just be chalked up to really poor communication between the Board and the Council that has now been resolved except for two other components.

One is Jason and Tom’s continued reference to the $100,000 that LST provides to HAL and their demand that the township look into this more thoroughly. Is this prologue to an attempt to defund the library, just like the budget footnote threatens to defund the fire company? One thing I have learned over this past year is that when Jason uses words like “we must be stewards of the taxpayer’s money” or to similar effect, there’s more to it than appropriate fiscal responsibility. This guy has more tells than John Boehner’s latest memoir.

The second component – and this is the really ugly part – was the series of ad hominem (or more correctly ad feminem) attacks on Mrs. Stauffer as the council liaison to the Library. Jason questioned how she could have let such a thing happen. Had she reported this to Ms. Huhn? Why didn’t she step in and prevent Ms. Hecker from voting? He seriously impugned her capabilities to be the liaison to the library, parroted, of course, by Tom at every opportunity. (Tom, you will recall, REALLY wanted to be the library liaison and was clearly upset last year when Mrs. Stauffer was chosen instead.)

Jason said he didn’t expect that Mrs. Stauffer could provide an answer to this at the meeting (duh – you sprang it on her with no warning). When Mrs. Stauffer tried to respond to this deluge of accusations, he then hit the low point for the year as he made a motion to “mute Mrs. Stauffer until I have finished my remarks,” immediately seconded by Tom (Abbot and Costello didn’t have a better sense of timing). I would say the reaction of the other council members was stunned, followed by a chorus of “you can’t do that” and “that’s against the Sunshine Law” and eventually it was dropped, not withdrawn, dropped. (cf. “why doesn’t this organization follow basic parliamentary rules?”)

So let’s pause at this point and observe that the stench of hypocrisy here is worse than the odor from a poorly managed landfill on a hot July afternoon. You’ll recall that back at the June 3, 2020, Council meeting, Mrs. deLeon was chastised by Jason and Tom for interfering in a report being put together about the landfill. What she did was suggest that the report include a picture that represented how methane leaks from landfills (which is different from how methane is vented into the air at, say, a wastewater treatment facility) so that people who read the report would better understand what the problems are. But no, that was overstepping her authority as simply a liaison to the Committee. She had no right to offer that kind of input or request that picture be inserted. And eventually they forced her out as liaison to the Landfill Committee.

Fast forward to April. Now Mrs. Stauffer is chastised for not inserting herself (as liaison) into the Library Board’s actions and preventing Ms. Hecker from voting. And apparently she should have reported this all, somehow, to Ms. Huhn? Let me point out that Mrs. Stauffer does not work for nor does she report to Ms. Huhn and it is not dereliction of her duty that she didn’t report Ms. Hecker’s involvement in the meeting to her. Ms. Huhn had no authority to do anything about it anyway.

Second, Mrs. Stauffer is not the HAL Board’s parliamentarian. It is not her responsibility to be sure that the HAL Board conducts its business correctly. It is her responsibility to report the Library’s concerns and actions to the township council. That’s what a liaison does (look it up!). In fact, I doubt she has any authority to prevent the HAL Board from taking any action since she is just one vote among many.

All of which leads back to the question – what’s really going on here? Is this trumped-up indignation to begin to lay the case for defunding or reducing funding for the library? Or is it just more of the same nasty, middle-school playground “gotcha” animus we’ve seen pointed at Mrs. Stauffer ever since the Court chose her last year instead of someone else’s pet candidate and the attempt to unseat her failed? At one point Jason said he’d like “to ask for a little bit of courtesy.” As far as I can see, he hasn’t extended any courtesy to Mrs. Stauffer for more than a year so I don’t see how he merits any right now, at least not without an apology to Mrs. Stauffer first.

Do you know who I feel badly for? The Saucon Valley HS students who serve as junior council members. They are exposed to these horrendous role models of community “leaders” meeting after meeting. I hope they are appalled and that they are not taking this as appropriate examples of how elected public servants should act. Because if they think this is the right way to behave, we’re all doomed.

For months I have tried to give Jason and Tom the benefit of the doubt but this is ridiculous. These are grown men acting like spoiled brats whenever they don’t get their own way or like bullies in the school yard picking on girls. Mrs. Stauffer will be on the Council until the end of the year. She’s not running for re-election. There are 15 more meetings left. Grow up.

One More Thing Before We Go

PRO-TIP: If you think you’d like to run for township council, perhaps you should attend at least a few meetings before you through your hat in the ring. It’s never been easier since they’ve been on Zoom all year. It would go a long way toward improving a candidate’s credibility.

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 6:30 PM

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