And the Beat Goes On

Remember the brouhaha back in the fall about the use of the Township pavilion by a political party for a rally? Remember how it surfaced concerns about inconsistencies and deficiencies in the pavilion rental policy and the parks usage policy? Remember the concerns that were raised about the enforcement of the rules and regulations regarding both pavilion rental and special events? Remember how thorough discussion of it got tabled sine die because:

  1. Budget season was coming up and that work was far more important than hashing out problems with the parks policy, and
  2. There was a request of Ms. Huhn to get additional information on the policies and procedures of other municipalities and how they handle similar information, and
  3. The Parks and Recreation Committee wanted to study the issue and weigh in on what they felt would be an appropriate solution?
Saed Hindash for LehighValley Live

Well, the issue reappeared as an agenda item at the March 3 Township Council meeting. Was there information presented about the policies and procedures of other municipalities and how they handle similar information? Not that I heard. Were there recommendations from the Parks and Recreation Committee on how to correct some of the inconsistencies and deficiencies? If there were, they were not included in the council packet that was posted on-line accompanying the agenda.

What was presented was a copy of the current “Request for Pavilion Rental” form with the words “Is this a political event? Yes / No” handwritten on it with an asterisk indicating that a political event required a Special Event Permit and a copy of the current “Special Event Application” with “political event” also handwritten under “type of event”. Ms. Huhn also stated with corroboration from Attorney Treadwell that in the future the township would be putting up “No Parking” signs in order to be able to enforce the regulation that no one can park on the grass.

In the comment period, there were questions raised about how the regulations would be enforced, since they clearly were not at the September 17 event. Attorney Treadwell pointed to the “No Parking” signs as the solution. When questioned about the harassment problems about which resident Stephanie Brown complained in person to a police officer at the event and that she subsequently raised at the October 7 council meeting and the flouting of park regulations regarding political banners and crowd size raised by resident Victoria Opthof at the same meeting, Attorney Treadwell deferred to Chief Barndt, who was not at the council meeting, as to why no action was taken that evening. Treadwell’s reply seemed to boil down to the police having discretion as to what complaints they want to respond to or not and since they didn’t respond, too bad. Gee, I hope if someone breaks into my house that the police use their discretion to decide to come arrest the guy.

Back at the October 7 meeting, resident and Parks and Rec Board member Katrina Schreefer had raised concerns that she had attended a Parks and Rec meeting on October 5 at which the Board seemed reluctant to take up the issues of park regulation enforcement. In the minutes of the subsequent Parks and Rec meeting on November 2, the Board moved a recommendation to Council that they put a capacity limitation on each park and pavilion and if the application exceeds that number, it automatically requires a special event application. Nothing was mentioned about that at the Council meeting on March 3. As Ms. Schreefer had brought up in October, the Parks and Rec Board did not recommend any other changes specifically to deal with regulation enforcement. They have not addressed any of these issues since.

And while the Parks and Rec Board seems to be very impressed with how detailed their rules and regulations are, let me share with you one sentence from the Fees & Charges section of the Parks & Athletic Facilities Use Policy, dated 6/19/13:

“Any event or activity which the Fee Schedule of this section indicates as a “Special Event” shall be subject to the provisions of the Special Event Permit Application procedures (under development).” [emphasis added]

Really? Under development since 2013? That sound you hear is the can being kicked down the road.

Moving on

One other peculiar action took place at the March 3 meeting. There was an agenda item to appoint a new member to the Hellertown Area Library Board because of the resignation of a member whose term runs through 12/31/21. Mrs. Stauffer, as liaison to the Library from the township, nominated Janie Hecker who had been recommended by the Library Board for the position. Apparently past practice has been for the township to accept the Board’s recommendation and elect that person to the Board. Also in the past, the Board has advertised the position and historically there have been few applicants, usually only one. But this time, when the Board sent over its recommendation, the Township, through Ms. Huhn, informed the HAL Board that the township would be advertising and conducting their own search. This apparently resulted in two additional applicants.

Now it was hard to follow what process was used, but apparently Ms. Huhn did advertise the position and sent some or all of the information from the applicants over to the HAL Board. It didn’t seem as if anyone in the Township office or anyone on the Township Council had actually interviewed any of the applicants and it was unclear if the HAL Board had interviewed any of the applicants either, although they knew the person they had recommended from her prior service. There was no information on any of the applicants (cover letters, resumes, etc.) provided in the documents that were publicly posted with the meeting’s agenda.

Instead, there was a lot of huffing and puffing from Mr. Carocci and Mr. Banonis about how the Board’s recommended nominee had previously served on the Board and the Township needed new blood and someone else should have a chance and it was the Township’s right to appoint whomever it chose (that part is correct) and they didn’t have to take the HAL Board’s recommendation (also true) and on and on and on. Mr. Banonis, in particularly high dudgeon, claimed that the other two applicants were being “shunned” by the Council in favor of the HAL Board’s recommendation. He then took the opportunity to present in detail one of the applicant’s credentials, someone named Sharon, last name unintelligible over Zoom. He neglected, however, to mention anything significant about the other applicant’s credentials. Perhaps she should feel “shunned.”

Long story short, Janie Hecker’s nomination was voted down and Sharon Whoever was elected to the HAL Board. But there are two larger issues here that should be considered.

First, one of Sharon’s credentials is that she is actually an employee of – wait for it – the Bethlehem Area Public Library. You remember the BAPL. That’s the library that the Township Council quite a few years ago went to great pains to divorce us from, over the objections of a large number of LST residents, myself included. But when Mrs. Stauffer and Mrs. deLeon raised the issue of this being a possible conflict of interest, Mrs. Yerger pooh-poohed the whole idea as ridiculous. After all, why would there be a problem that someone on the Hellertown Library Board actively works for the library from which the Township had so acrimoniously separated?

Second, and more importantly, is the question of how do these kinds of decisions get made in the Township? Who told Ms. Huhn to advertise for the HAL Board vacancy? I’m sure she didn’t get up one morning and just decide to do it on her own. So where did the direction come from? It wasn’t by a vote of Council. There has been no agenda item to that effect in the past year. It wasn’t from Mrs. Stauffer, the Council liaison to the Library, who might be the obvious person to make that request. So who decided that, this time, LST had to do its own advertising and find its own Library Board member?

And who interviewed the applicants? Who vetted their credentials? Who on the Township Council knows enough about the workings of the library to be able to make a credible judgement about who is the best fit? What about the mysterious third applicant? Who is she and wasn’t she entitled to a thoughtful consideration also?

This is a recurring theme with this Council. Last July, there were two openings on the Zoning Board that were handled in a similar manner – five applicants, no interviews in public or private, no vetting beyond Ms. Huhn’s confirmation that they were all township residents, no questions permitted, just the bulldozing of two candidates who suited Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci with Mrs. Yerger again playing yes-person. For more detail, you can read Saucon Shenanigans from July 25, 2020.

Here’s the point. This is not how you get the best government for your township or the best volunteers for township committees and boards. This is not transparency. This is not following an agreed-upon process. This stinks of outdated, backroom cronyism – who you know and who knows you.

Sharon Whoever may turn out to be a fine member of the HAL Board. The two Zoning Board members may be doing a bang-up job. But might one of the other people have been better? We’ll never know. In fact, we’ll never even have had a chance to make the comparisons because this Council made sure you wouldn’t see the process or the alternatives.

Is this really the best way to run a township?

One more thing before we go

This isn’t directly related to the township council but it does have to do with Saucon Valley and the kind of shenanigans that go on around here. Why, in the middle of another dramatic escalation in Covid case counts in Northampton County, has the Saucon Valley School District school board returned to in-person meetings? Where do they think we live? Texas?

Source: NYTimes

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 6:30 PM

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

The Winter Lull

There hasn’t been much news to comment on from the last two Lower Saucon Township council meetings on January 20 and February 3. There have been a lot of housekeeping items – requests by individual residents for various variances, authorization of purchases and payments, RFPs, authorization to collect 2021 real estate taxes (I know that makes us all happy), and a lot of 5-0 votes coupled with little obnoxious behavior. All in all, a pretty slow period.

Photo by Harvey Reed on Pexels.com

With that being the case, I’d like to take a little time to discuss three items I find of interest.

Meadows Road Bridge

The February 3rd meeting included a lengthy discussion with the PennDOT representative who came to discuss their Structural Analysis Report of the Meadows Road bridge. This is a subject that has come up multiple times in the past year and it always seems to be accompanied by a lot of emotion, especially among residents who call in. I hope that they were either listening to the meeting or will take the time to read the minutes of this enlightening discussion. The PennDOT guy (I’m sorry – I didn’t catch his name) gave a thorough and cogent explanation of the four concerns that PennDOT is required to address – structure, safety, flooding and multi-modality – as they pertain to the bridge. He then explained the three possible solutions – repair, replace or remove – with the plusses and minuses involved in each solution. Council members asked probing and intelligent questions and elicited knowledgeable answers from the PennDOT person about what the possibilities are. Although the council members seem to be disappointed with PennDOT’s conclusion that the bridge needs to be replaced, nevertheless they showed a clear-eyed pragmatism and recognition of the advantages of that solution while at the same time proposing reasonable ways to commemorate or memorialize the current antique structure. All in all, this is the kind of constructive interaction one hopes to find in public officials all working toward the common goal of the public good.

Developer Relations

Each of the two meetings contained presentations by developers looking for various approvals to move forward with their projects. On Jan. 20, representatives of the development at the Steel Club presented further details of their plan. I was struck by the extent to which these developers are addressing issues of water management relative to the creek that meanders through the property. As a sustainability consultant myself, I found their commitment to taking pro-active measures to mitigate future flooding, even where not directly connected with the development that they’re planning on doing, to be a laudable commitment. I realize that this is also of economic value to them as it improves the value of their property, but there are plenty of developers whose response would be “we don’t have to do it, so we won’t.” They seem to be more concerned that it’s done correctly for long-term value and they should be commended for that.

The other developer presentation on February 3 regarding the Stonewood Longridge subdivision was notable as an example of a developer who has clearly communicated often and openly with the township in developing their project. Council members seemed to be well-informed of what had been done over the course of this apparently long development cycle and seemed eager to approve the plans. The discussion also included a fascinating explanation of how the fire company responds to fires in areas that are not part of the public water system and have no access to natural water sources (ponds, streams, etc.). Clearly the developers have been working with both the Council and the fire company to develop the best plans for their residents. Another example of how transparency and collaboration deliver good government service.

Park/Pavilion Use Rules

Back in the Fall, you may remember, there was considerable uproar about the conflicting and deficient rules and regulations that govern the use of various Township park facilities, especially the rental of pavilions. At that time, several Council members deflected discussion of the problems by claiming that the budget discussions in progress were far more important. There was a promise to address the problems in the future. Well, reservations for park facilities for 2021 have now been open since January and one assumes that those 2021 reservations have been made under the same inadequate and contradictory rules that applied back in Fall 2020. With two relatively light meeting agendas on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3, one might have thought that either of those meetings would have been a good time to address this on-going issue. One would have been wrong.

At one point we were told that the issue now resides with the Parks and Recreation Committee and yet they have not brought any workable solutions to Council. Wouldn’t now be a good time to resolve this issue while there is relatively little work for Parks and Rec to do? Perhaps we can expect to see this as an agenda item for the March 3rd meeting or, at the latest, the April 7th meeting before we start hearing that Parks and Rec can’t tackle it because it’s the busy time of year when the parks are in use?

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, March 3, 6:30 PM

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