Coming up on a Lower Saucon Township Council meeting next Wednesday, April 20, and once again there is no agenda item for negotiations or an agreement with the Hellertown Area Library.
We’re now 3½ months into 2022 and to date the Council has managed to avoid doing anything productive as far as the Library is concerned. In January following a specious recounting of the timeline of interactions between the Library, LST and Hellertown Borough by Banonis, the Council (minus Mrs. deLeon) voted to cut funding in half and refused to sign an agreement going forward, wanting to just “be a donor.” Not surprisingly, the Library turned that down but graciously allowed LST residents to still use the library’s facilities for another month.
In February, despite a request from Mrs. deLeon to put the Library on the agenda, the other four council people didn’t consider that important enough and so another month passed with no substantive action. Of course, there was a report by Zavacky on the status at that meeting which was filled with gobbledygook and nonsense.
In March, the issue once again did not make the agenda despite a substantive proposal being provided by the Library to the Council which required no more than the Council agreeing in writing to negotiate a new agreement. Not SIGN an agreement, just NEGOTIATE one before July 1, 2022. With a week to consider that, the Council still couldn’t come up with a decision. Council member Carocci could, however, again spew malarkey about how the Library was still considering taking the check from January (HINT: they weren’t. They voted that down at the public January 25 Library Board meeting but, hey, why let the truth hinder the spin?).
The latest update is that weeks ahead of the April 20 council meeting, the Library has extended the deadline for the Council to agree to negotiate (again: negotiate NOT sign on to) a new agreement. And has once again graciously agreed to continue to provide library services to the delinquent citizens of LST. But still no item on the April 20 agenda. In the past we’ve been falsely informed that you can’t put an item on the agenda unless there is action to be taken (that’s not true). But now there is something to take action on – an invitation from the Library to negotiate a new agreement. So why isn’t it on the agenda? Here’s one hint: if they put it on the agenda, they have to let the public comment on it at the beginning of the meeting. Hmmm, that might mean more people would show up and comment. Probably don’t want that.
What’s Behind All This Delay?
There’s been quite a lot of speculation about what is behind all of this library nonsense and why it’s taken so long to get it resolved. After all, when the whole situation blew up in January, Hellertown Borough managed to resolve their portion of it in about 2 weeks. Setting aside the conjecture that much of this is a result of personal animus, let’s look at the whole Library issue from a completely different perspective. What if, in fact, the Council never did intend to sign the agreement with the Library and has no intention now of resolving the issue in favor of continuing library service to the LST residents.
Look at the facts in that light. Discussions on the new 5-year agreement began almost a year ago, in Spring 2021. They dragged on and on. Whenever Kristen Stauffer, the previous Council library liaison, would raise concerns or seek guidance on where the Township stood on budgetary issues, she would be belittled or ignored and no progress would be made. Former Township Manager Leslie Huhn was in charge of working with the Hellertown Township Manager and Library personnel to work out the new agreement. But somehow the usually capable Ms. Huhn couldn’t manage to get those 3 entities to work together or, supposedly, to respond to her, although we now have a more accurate timeline that indicates that probably wasn’t the case. Of course, she’s now conveniently gone – resigned – so we can’t get her input on this.
Wouldn’t all that be very useful if you really didn’t want to sign a new agreement? Hellertown Borough, seeing the December 31 renewal date coming up fast, responsibly took action to guarantee library services for its residents. LST punted time and time again due to “concerns” and Solicitor Treadwell claimed he couldn’t share the concerns with the public. Then LST fashioned a guaranteed-to-be-rejected insulting solution of cutting support in half and signing no agreement. Now, according to them, it became the Library’s fault that we’re in the situation we’re in. And they changed the rules for putting an item on the agenda to guarantee that Mrs. deLeon, the only real library supporter, can’t get anything considered going forward.
So in January the four Council members spring the new 50% cut/no agreement motion on the public with no mention on the agenda of what the “library services discussion” would entail; in February Mrs. deLeon can’t get a second Council member to agree to put the item on the agenda because of the lies about “no action to be taken;” in March the excuse is that the request came on too short notice to put it on the agenda (another falsity since the Sunshine Act provides for last-minute and emergency additions to agendas) and Mrs. deLeon again cannot get a second to put it on the agenda although she reads it into the minutes, and now it’s April and it’s still not on the agenda.
What’s behind all of this? Why not sit down and negotiate and work this out like reasonable people and elected public servants? I have two ideas that may or may not be intertwined.
Idea #1 – Bullying Gone Bad
We’ve watched members of this Council over the past two years employ bullying tactics in the place of honest negotiation to get what they want. The whole Steel City/LSFR merger issue comes most prominently to mind. You just push and pressure and turn the screws until your opponent caves. Other bullying tactics were employed in relation to the delay in approving the Covid bonuses for the police department until after their contract was agreed to. More subtle, perhaps, but arm-twisting no less. And then, miraculously, there was another $500 per person available after they approved the contract, beyond what every non-police employee had gotten!
In the case of the Library, I think the groundwork was laid last February when Carocci began making noises about LST being disrespected by the Library and asking what we were getting for our money. Did he do anything to actually find an answer to that question? No, he just wanted to get the idea out there. Typical Fox News tactics. The approach all through 2021 was to ratchet up the pressure on the Library to get whatever terms it was LST Council wanted. Of course, we don’t really know what those terms were because according to Treadwell, he couldn’t share any of that with us, but there were vague comments about “financial issues” and “concerns about management.” But nothing you could really check out. Just insinuations.
Of course the assumption might have been that as the December 31 deadline approached that the Library, always short on funding and dependent on the support of the Borough and the Township, would just fold. But then, two things happened.
Oops, Not What They Expected?
First, Hellertown Borough threw a monkey wrench into all of that when, as good public servants do, they stepped up and signed the agreement on behalf of providing library services to their residents. And then, when the December 31 date came and went and LST came up with its insulting “we just want to be donors” solution on January 19, the Board of HAL said thanks, but no thanks. We’ll work this out another way.
All of that left the LST Council scrambling. They have a constituency that clearly wants library services and they’ve backed themselves into a corner. Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) has publicly stated they’re not interested. Bethlehem doesn’t want them back. They now either have to negotiate honestly with HAL which most bullies would see as “losing” or they have to admit that they’re fine with LST residents having no library, something for which I would hope they would pay dearly at the ballot box.
The analogies to Putin in Ukraine are ironic. Someone badly miscalculates, executes incompetently, and has no viable Plan B.
Idea #2 – You’re Not Entitled to Library Services
One thing we’ve watched consistently from the ultra-right authoritarian playbook since the Reagan era and most explicitly over the last five years is the concept that it’s not the responsibility of government to provide services to the public that the entitled white people (usually male) in charge don’t feel they have a right to. While this is often used in a racial context, it can just as well be a class issue. We’ve heard some of this from people up on that rostrum in Town Hall with statements like, “nobody uses libraries anymore,” “you can just order the books you need from Amazon,” “only 30% of the residents use the Library,” and the observation that HAL is not as convenient for most LST residents as the SLPL (the implication being that the only people that count live in the southwest quadrant of the township).
In this explanation, LST Council is more than happy to steal services from HAL for as long as HAL (who are suckers in their opinion) is willing to supply them and then, when that ends, we’re all just out of luck. Or perhaps we will have forgotten about it. It’s in this context that the threat of a lawsuit is useful. The idea is that the Township has the funds to sue the “poor” library and so the Library will just kowtow to the township’s demands.
Nowhere in this scenario is there any understanding of elected officials as public servants or as people who represent the entire township instead of just a precious few (probably those who can afford Amazon and contribute to their campaigns). This is, to put it mildly, despicable. It is also not, by any explanation, how a democracy is supposed to work.
But How About Pickleball?
Be aware that these condescending comments and rules only apply to those things that the elected Council members consider not of interest to them. When it comes to pickleball, on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter how many people might use those courts if a Council member wants them. To that point, tell us, Zavacky, what were the results of the survey that you conducted to find out what percentage of residents might use those pickleball courts? You did do that, right? Took a survey? Oh no? Really? Well, my guess is that when you do, there are going to be a lot less potential users than the 3,328 residents that would represent 30% of the most recent census numbers. But then, you don’t care, do you?
Two more library things. Saucon Source reported on March 28(!) via Ken Solt, President of the HAL Board, that the Township had sent the Library a check for $41,644.67, an amount which reflects a deduction for library services the township paid for in January as part of their agreement extension. Give it up. What part of “we turned your check down” don’t you get? It had been over 2 months since the Library voted not to take it.
Second, in the “for what it’s worth” department, if I were on the Board of HAL, I’d give the money back to the Commonwealth for the amount that covers LST and then close off all services to LST residents except for those that are available to any citizen of the Commonwealth, i.e. walk in the door, read the books/contents, leave. No borrowing, no PA ACCESS cards, no meeting rooms, etc. Or charge LST residents individually for use of the facilities.
Stop letting LST Council take advantage of your kindness and stop letting them hide behind the ongoing services, hoping that no one will notice that nothing’s happening. When the services stop, a lot more residents will start complaining.
Here are a few other thoughts:
- Back at the October 27 meeting, our new state representative Milou Mackenzie showed up to tell us all about how she’s here to help the residents of LST. Well, Milou, where are you now? Bob Freeman has been very visible in trying to facilitate discussions between the state’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries and HAL and Hellertown Borough. Where are you? What have you done?
- A big shout-out to our interim Township Manager, Peter Marshall, for calling out the appalling state of whatever it is that passes for “minutes” of Township meetings. Those multi-page abominations have nothing to do with the definition of minutes in Robert’s Rules of Order. And if you want to argue that they’re transcriptions of the meetings, they’re virtually useless for that too because there’s no attempt to turn the transcriptions into understandable sentence structure. There are incorrect words, misspelled words, run-on sentences with unclear attributions as to who is speaking. Thank you for pointing out that whatever we’re paying for them is a giant waste of township money. Please, get this man some chairs just for calling attention to that.
- YOU NEED TO SHOW UP AGAIN AT THE APRIL 20 COUNCIL MEETING. ONCE AGAIN, YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT AROUND UNTIL THE END. BUT DON’T GIVE UP. THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE COUNTING ON!
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, April 20, 6:30 PM – Township Hall
As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.