Fixing the Library Problem

While it’s morally satisfying to call out the repugnant behavior of four members of the Lower Saucon Township Council in their dealings with both township residents and other municipalities, and while it’s very important to continue to keep township residents up-to-date on what is happening, the reality is that it’s not moving the problem towards resolution.

To date the LST Council members (Mrs. deLeon always excepted) have dragged their feet, gaslighting us and showing exactly no interest in spending the time and energy necessary to resolve the problem.  They have deliberately obfuscated the issue with detours and sidetracks and flat-out lies. So I’d like to lay out a process by which we might actually get to resolution.

The Basics

With all due respect to Pastor Spohn’s well-intentioned attempt at mediation, the fact is that this problem is an LST problem, pure and simple. LST Council created the problem; they exacerbated the problem, and they have refused to deal with solving the problem.

Hellertown Borough and HAL have a functional bilateral agreement that delivers library services to Hellertown residents to both parties’ satisfaction for 2022.  Where they go for 2023 and beyond is up to them. If they have to continue without LST’s participation, that will be up to them to decide.

Before anything else, as a gesture of good faith, the LST Council needs to agree to 1) pay its budgeted support to HAL for the remainder of 2022 and 2) drop its threat to sue the library.  Without that minimal action, HAL should immediately cut off all services to LST residents for lack of payment.  LST budgeted $107,168 for HAL for 2022, or $8931/month.  Based on LST’s population, the state provided HAL with $22,968.  LST paid for one month of services for January.  The state money covered an additional 2.6 months of services.  That amount was exhausted on April 18.

Next, these questions need to be answered:

  • Do the residents of LST want library services?  We know that as of January there were 3,328 residents who were members of the library (2,513 adults/815 juveniles).  The 2020 census counts 11,094 residents in the township.  So 29.998% of LST residents held library cards.  Let’s call it 30%.  But that number doesn’t necessarily represent the number of residents who want to have access to a library.  There may be far more who at least want access even if they don’t currently utilize it.  And that number doesn’t include children who don’t hold their own library cards but use the facilities on their parents’ cards.  There hasn’t been a survey about library services since back in 2014? 2015? when LST cut ties with the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

So let’s get an accurate count. There’s a primary election coming up in a little over 3 weeks on May 17.  Let’s set up a table outside each of the polling places in the township and ask every voter one question:  Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?  Yes or No, as simple as that.  No complicating questions about how to pay for it or clouding the issue with “regionalization” or anything like that.

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Collect each person’s name, address and how many people are in their household.  This will cover juveniles who cannot get library cards on their own.

After that, cross reference the responses with the resident lists and send a letter with a self-addressed, stamped postcard to every resident who has not responded on May 17 that asks: 

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

At the same time create a page on the township website where residents can respond to one question:

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Set a deadline. Count up the responses.

  •  What is the minimum number of responses required for this to be deemed a valid survey?  And what is the minimum threshold that is required to pursue library services for the township?  0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, some other number?  The LST Council should be forced to set both these numbers before any results are tallied.
  • It is at this point that we come to a crucial question.  Does the LST Council even have any intention of providing library services to its residents at all?  It’s a legitimate question because up to this point, their actions (and remember, watch what they do, not what they say) have indicated that they are driving us down the path to losing all library services on December 31, 2022.

If they have no intention of providing library services to LST residents, they should be required to state that clearly before July 1, 2022, so that HAL will know not to include LST population numbers in their 2023 request for state funds.  If they refuse to state their intentions clearly and in writing before July 1, 2022, HAL should, for its own protection, not include the LST population numbers in their 2023 request.

If the answer is “no,” then let them take their chances at the ballot box in November 2023.

If The Answer is Yes

Step 1.  Agree to a One-Year Extension of the Agreement with HAL to Cover 2023

Step 2. Appoint a Library Committee

If the LST Council does intend to go forward with providing library services for its residents, the next question is:

What is the best way to provide library services?

In order to answer that question, the Council should appoint a Library Committee tasked with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  The committee should be composed of township residents who are willing to commit the time and energy to investigate the various options and have indicated their support for the township providing library services.  The committee should NOT include:

  • Council members except for one Council liaison and that should be Mrs. deLeon since no other Council members have voted in favor of continuing library services to this point.
  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor

The following people should be asked to provide subject matter expertise if requested by the committee but should not have a vote on the committee:

  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor
  • Representatives from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Representatives from other municipalities and libraries
  • Other subject matter experts as deemed necessary by the Committee

Step 3.  The Library Committee Charge and Deadline

Charge the Library Committee with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  This might include but not be limited to:

  • Continuing a relationship with HAL on a bilateral basis
  • Reinstating a relationship with HAL in conjunction with Hellertown Borough
  • Implementing a library tax to support an agreement with HAL
  • Entering into a regional library arrangement which does not currently exist, dependent on the regulations of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Other configurations

Provide whatever funding and administrative support is needed by the Committee.

Set a deadline for the Committee to complete its work and submit its report.

Step 4.  Town Hall Meeting

Schedule a town hall meeting of at least one hour to hear the results of the Library Committee’s work and provide for public discussion of the options presented. Arrange for the meeting to be livestreamed or, better, available through interactive video.

Step 5.  Adopt and Implement One of the Committee’s Recommendations

Because the LST Council will have previously committed to providing library services to its residents, the Council will then be expected to choose one of the available recommendations and begin implementation as early as possible.

There you have it – one path to fixing the library problem.  I’m certain there are a number of equally viable possibilities as well as a number of tweaks that would make this path more effective.  Whether this is the best option or not, it is a process for movement towards resolution.  It is not a continuation of the foot-dragging gaslighting that we’ve watched since almost a year ago.  

It is the least the township residents should expect of their duly elected “leaders.”

What’s the Excuse This Time?

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.

No Action

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?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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?

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

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?

As my friend Beau from the Fifth Column says, “It’s just a thought.”

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.

Lower Saucon, Home of the Freeloaders

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

As of today, it has been 43 days that Lower Saucon Township has been freeloading off of the Hellertown Area Public Library.   The township has paid not one cent toward the use of those facilities and yet the Library has graciously allowed the residents of the Township to continue to use them.  How does it feel as a resident to be required to accept charity from a far less richly endowed borough like Hellertown or a non-profit institution like the Library?  Aren’t you just a little ashamed?  Does it bother you that we’ve become a laughingstock in the Valley?  “Oh, Lower Saucon.  Isn’t that where they pulled out of the Library?  What’s wrong with those people?”

And yeah, yeah, I know the nonsense about the State grant money. I’ll get to that in detail later.

The February 16 Township Council meeting featured so much manure being shoveled at us accompanied by such high grade gaslighting that I’m frankly astonished that Town Hall didn’t spontaneously combust.  Let’s review what we had to sit through for almost 4 hours.

First, the Council couldn’t even be bothered to put the library on the agenda, despite Mrs. deLeon’s best efforts.  Instead, they buried it in Council reports which meant there could be no public comment until the end of the meeting.  Then they made sure the meeting ran just as long as possible, starting with a resolution honoring a township Scout which – in Banonis’ own words (draft minutes, page 2, line 53-54) – “Normally we don’t read these resolutions, but he thinks it’s an important milestone that we should read it as well as the next one.”  The next one honored the Saucon Valley wrestling team and required not only the reading of the entire resolution along with each individual team member’s name and acknowledgement but also team and council pictures while the entire audience waited. That ate up a good half hour.

In addition to the usual developer items, bid authorizations, contract approvals and various other quotidian items, there had to be a number of approvals and authorizations to cover the vacancies created by the resignation of Leslie Huhn, Township Manager, the openings for a finance clerk and administrative assistant, the hiring of an interim township manager, and a temp part-time clerical employee.  Does anyone else find that a disturbing amount of staff turnover? Things that make you go “hmmmmm.”

On the subject of Ms. Huhn’s resignation, I’d only like to point out that it was somewhat disheartening that after her 20 or so years of service to the Township, that the Council couldn’t be bothered to cobble together a resolution to thank her for her service.  You could formally thank a Boy Scout for building a kiosk but not Ms. Huhn for two decades of service? Setting aside the various conjectures about the timing and cause of her resignation, she was a competent employee with a ton of institutional knowledge and replacing her will be challenging, both because of the current employment challenges in the country and the Township’s low public regard.  Couldn’t the Township have managed at least a formal thank-you instead of the kind of haphazard “gee, we’re sorry to see you go” that we got instead?  I guess not.

Before we get to the library though, there were a few other agenda items worth mentioning.  Once again we were treated to the politically motivated announcement of the fact that Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky were giving up their Council compensation for not just this year but, wait for it, their entire terms.  Yes, yes, I know it supposedly had to be included in the minutes, but if you read the solicitor’s explanation of why, it says in case the Township provides benefits like healthcare, etc. it has to be on the record.  We don’t. And you could have reported it in Council or Township Manager’s reports and it would have made it into the minutes. Mrs. deLeon made a good point as well.  Why wasn’t this done at the organizational meeting if this was their intention?  Why wait? Bigger audience?

One important point on this issue.  Later in the meeting, Banonis incorrectly claimed “there was a statement of accepting money from the landfill, he can say publicly that he never accepted anything from the landfill . . . just so that record is clear.” (draft minutes, page 12, lines 36-38).  He’s referring to a statement I made, (draft minutes, page 1, lines 48-50) where I said that he, Carocci and Zavacky “were provided with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of political support” from the PAC funded by the company that owns the landfill.  I did not say that anyone had accepted money from the landfill, only political support.  He, as well as the other two, did indeed accept that political support in that they never repudiated that support and silence can be construed as acceptance.

Moving On

This meeting also saw the consideration of quotes for livestreaming of Council meetings. Carocci almost immediately moved to table the consideration of quotes until a permanent township manager is hired because “[i]t’s a lot of money and a complicated system and he wants to have the permanent Township Manager look at these proposals and decide with that persons [sic] input what the best is for the Township. He will have to live with the system.” (draft minutes, page 14, lines 2-4).  Don’t you love the assumption that the new township manager will be male?  But I digress.

If we assume that there is some validity in that argument (some, not a lot), then let’s move to a more compelling question.  In March 2020 as we have all been recently reminded by the media, the world shut down because of Covid.  The March 18, 2020, council meeting was cancelled, but by April 1, council meetings were back in session and were being streamed via the Zoom app which provided not only video of the meeting but also two-way audio, permitting not only township officials and the councilmembers to comment but also allowed public comment, just like always.  That system worked fine until Council went back to public meetings in June 2021 – in other words, for more than a year.

If it’s necessary to wait for permanent equipment and a full-fledged system until there’s a permanent township manager, then why in the name of common sense can’t we simply reinstate the previous system to provide livestreaming and two-way communication just like before?  Has everyone gone braindead and can’t remember how to do that?  Or is it that this council really doesn’t want all those pesky residents to see what’s going on or, even worse, comment on it?  Funny how Hellertown can do it, but Lower Saucon can’t.

FYI, 1000 people have viewed the livestream from the January 19 meeting and 695 viewed the livestream from February 16.  I would say that represents a significantly interested constituency.  During the February 16 meeting, there were more than 85 people watching the meeting as it livestreamed.  In January there were over 100.  I will point out that it should not be necessary for a volunteer resident to have to provide a service which is so clearly desired by the township AND SHOULD BE PAID FOR BY IT and which they have already proven themselves capable of doing without a $17,000 system. Not only that, but a Facebook livestream can’t provide two-way communication like the previous Zoom set-up could.  But then maybe that’s the point.

And Now to the Library

According to Zavacky, the library issue was relegated to her council report and not an agenda item because there was nothing to vote on.  This is arrant baloney.  Let’s look at the word salad she used to explain why it was in the report section and not an agenda item. (Draft minutes, page 16, lines 17-22).  “As an update, that’s why it’s an update and not on the agenda, in terms of official action on what this Council would take, that would be things like recommendations that we need to be made by an agency pursuant to the statute ordinance, executive order, the establishment of policy, the decisions we need to make on agency business or vote on.  We have nothing to vote on today so that comes from the Sunshine Act and it has to be done here [meaning in the reports section].”

Okay, that’s not what the Sunshine Act says.  What it does say is this, §709.(c.1)(i) Notification of agency business to be considered.  “. . .the agency shall post the agenda, which includes a listing of each matter of agency business that will be or may be the subject of deliberation or official action at the meeting . . .” It later says in §712.1(a) that “. . . an agency may not take official action on a matter of agency business at a meeting if the matter was not included in the notification required under section 709(c.1).”  It then goes on to indicate what the exceptions are to being able to take action without previous notification.

So for those who are not used to reading legislative gobbledygook, let me explain what that means.  First, you’ll notice there is NOTHING in the Act that refers to what items MUST be included in the reports part of an agenda.  Second, the Act speaks to what MUST be included in an agenda if the Council wants to take action on it, but it does not prohibit other things from being included in the agenda. In fact, the agenda for February 16 included an item that took no action or deliberation, i.e. the aforementioned letters renouncing compensation by Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky.  So they could have been included in the Council reports since that would have gotten them read into the minutes if that was all that was necessary.

Next, I’m sure you all remember these immortal words from Banonis at the January 19 meeting, (from the approved minutes, page 2) “For a period of seven months in 2021, from May through December, the library board apparently chose to exclude Lower Saucon Township from negotiations on a new agreement.” (Page 4) “The library in Hellertown rejected every effort, every single effort by our Township Manager and Solicitor over a period of eight months.” (Page 5) “They didn’t, they ignored us. They never contacted us. Our Township Manager contacted them repeatedly and they ignored our requests.”  And yet here at the February 16 minutes is Zavacky with a sheaf of papers showing all the interactions between LST and Hellertown Borough and HAL.  How could that be?  Well, she did start back in July 2020 which of course is irrelevant to the discussions we’re having now.  But she then went on to (draft minutes, page 18 line 11 through page 19 line 16 – 58 lines of minutes) outline communications back and forth among Hellertown Borough, HAL and LST from the Summer of 2021 through November 16, 2021. 

What’s the truth here?  Was it that “they never contacted us” or was it the reams of paper that Zavacky offered to put up on the Township website?  Incidentally, I haven’t been able to find that posted anywhere?  If you find it, let me know.

Two More Items Related to the Library

Southern Lehigh Public Library Statement

Shortly before the February 16 meeting, Bruce Eames, the president of the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board put out a statement that said, among other things, “we do not want to be involved in this fight and have made that very clear to both LST and HAL on several occasions.  SLPL’s Board of Directors feel that it is in the best interest of all involved for LST and HAL to continue negotiating and come to an agreement.  It is not SLPS’s intention to shop our services to additional municipalities and organizations. [emphasis added] We currently serve Upper Saucon Township, Lower Milford Township, Coopersburg Borough and the Southern Lehigh School District.  That service area has worked very well for many years and our plans are to continue that relationship for the foreseeable future.  There have been reports of a possible financial donation being offered by LST to SLPL, but no action has been taken and we believe this is on hold.[emphasis added]”

Carocci apparently has difficulty understanding what this plain English statement means.  In response to a comment by Jo Ellen Thomson in the public comment period that Southern Lehigh Public Library “had made it public they are not interested in this at this time,” (draft minutes, page 34, lines 4 and 5), Carocci responded (page 34, lines 10 and 11) “I also want to say you are misinformed, SLPL is on hold and they want to continue to negotiate, to talk.  So you’re wrong.  You were misinformed.”  No, Carocci, she wasn’t.  You are.  SLPL didn’t say they had put the issue on hold.  They said that their understanding was that the issue was on hold – BY LST.  Notice it says “believe.”  If they had put it on hold, they would “know,” not “believe” it.  Apparently you don’t understand the meaning of “no means no.”

OCL Appropriations for Libraries

Finally, and this is probably the most insulting part of this whole issue, is the implication that somehow HAL was trying to pull a fast one by including LST’s population numbers as part of their service area when they applied for the annual grant from the state.  According to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) website “laws are enacted each year that detail how state aid is distributed.”  As anyone who knows anything at all about how the state operates knows, funding is determined based on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 – June 30. HAL’s application for a state grant was submitted in Summer 2021, probably after July 1 when the new fiscal year began.  At that time, they would have had no inkling that LST would renege on its commitment to support the library or refuse to sign a new agreement.  So there is nothing untoward about their including LST and its population in their service area.

HAL was approved for a grant of $35,662.87 for FY 2021-2022.  That means from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022.  The OCL website says that payments are made to local libraries in January/February “during each fiscal year (July-June).” So for Carocci to claim “They applied for the grant, they got the grant, and it’s for the calendar year.” (draft minutes, page 25, line 40) is just plain wrong.  The state doesn’t work on a calendar year basis.  It cannot appropriate funds for the second half of 2022 because it does not have an approved budget.  Having managed any number of state grants in my working career, I know this to be true.  And anyone who’s lived in Pennsylvania during one of those years when the legislature can’t get a budget passed knows that the State shuts down on July 1.

Here is the screenshot from the file on the OCL website titled “2021-22 State Aid Projections” with the dollar amount that matches the amount that HAL has indicated that it received from the State.  

Hellertown Grant – $35,662.87

Nowhere does this indicate that the grant is for the calendar year 2022.  If that’s what Carocci heard, he needs to get his hearing checked.  HAL, like all the other libraries, will need to apply for a grant for the remainder of 2022 after July 1 when the new budget is passed.  My guess is that this is why HAL, in their current proposal, requires that an agreement be signed for 2023 before July 1, 2022, so that they will know going forward whether to use the LST figures in their application to the State or not.

The fact that HAL agrees to not terminate services to LST before the end of 2022 even if LST refuses to sign an agreement for 2023 is a gift to LST.  What they are offering is to provide services to LST from July 1 through December 31 even if LST does not enter into an agreement for 2023 and beyond, even though HAL will not be able to include LST in its request for funds for 2022-2023 which would cover the second half of 2022, a period when LST would be getting services in return for their contributions but HAL would not be receiving funds from the State.  I know this is confusing but hey, that’s why we pay the council members the big bucks.  Oh yeah, I forgot.  They don’t take the money.

So enough with the crap about HAL “threatening” LST to cut off services.  You don’t pay for them; you don’t get them.  Instead, you become freeloaders.  And frankly, as a resident, I don’t appreciate being forced into that category.

One more thing.  In the October 22 issue of Saucon Shenanigans, I laid out a detailed process by which all three parties to the Library could reach an agreement on funding the Library.  Perhaps you might want to revisit that.  It would have saved us all a lot of trouble.

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, March 16, 6:30 PM – Township Hall

As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.

So Many Questions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 3HB 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.

A Tale of Two Cities (and a Library)

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  

– Charles Dickens
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

It’s been quite a week in the Saucon Valley.  Let’s pick up where we left off on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening January 26 at 7 PM brought the Hellertown Borough Council special meeting to discuss the situation with the Hellertown Area Library.  The 250 or so attendees via a hybrid meeting of in-person, Zoom and Facebook livestream heard Mayor David Heintzelman tell a far different story than the fairy tale that was spun by Lower Saucon Council President Jason Banonis the previous Wednesday.  The main difference was that Mayor Heintzelman brought the receipts – meeting dates and attendee names, email exchanges with dates and times, records of phone calls – a complete accounting of an attempt to reach consensus in plenty of time before the year end expiration of the tripartite Library-Borough-Township agreement.  It’s a bit difficult to honestly claim that Hellertown “went dark” when there’s all that data.  Facts, pesky things.

Borough President Tom Rieger sandwiched the mayor’s timeline between a history of the Library’s creation and existence in Hellertown and a well-conceived plan for how to work the Borough’s way out of the chaos that Lower Saucon’s actions threw them into.  But before the Council took up consideration of Mr. Rieger’s proposal, he first opened the floor to public comment by (wait for it) the public – translation: anyone who had come to the meeting in person or via Zoom (livestream does not permit two-way communication) could comment at whatever length they found necessary.  Now there was a novel concept for anyone who has recently attended a Lower Saucon Township Council meeting where comment is limited to LST residents and taxpayers ONLY at no more than 3 minutes each and in carefully sequestered time periods.

Amazingly, with so many attendees and almost an hour’s worth of commenters, there was nowhere near the chaos that had reigned at the LST meeting the previous week.  Everyone was treated with respect and given a chance to share their views.

When everyone had had a chance to speak, Mr. Rieger explained again his proposal for how to move forward with the Library.  As he so succinctly put it, “Hellertown Borough Council cannot control the actions of another public governmental body.”  Lower Saucon’s actions had put Hellertown Borough in the untenable situation of being a signatory to a tripartite agreement that was due to take effect on February 1, 2022, that had been signed by only two of the parties and rejected by the third.  It was, in other words, an invalid agreement.  To remedy the situation and provide Hellertown residents with the library services that they want and are willing to pay for, it was imperative that a new two-way agreement be drafted for the Borough and the Library to sign to cover services going forward.

To that end, the Hellertown Borough staff was authorized to draft a new agreement directly with the Library to be presented to the Council hopefully for consideration and/or adoption on February 1.  That two-year agreement would also stipulate the funding to be provided by Hellertown at the same level as 2021 as well as an additional $75,000 emergency allocation from the borough’s American Rescue Plan funds as the Library reassesses its budget and the services it can provide.  Let me point out that that additional $75,000 to the library could, with the support of the Borough council that was voiced that evening, possibly provide the basis for library access for all the school children of the Saucon Valley School District, including those whose parents live in Lower Saucon and would not otherwise be eligible.  The council also urged consideration of a mechanism to provide veterans in the Township with library access who would otherwise be cut off.  All of that is just a flat-out generous gesture.

Mr. Rieger also added one prudent recommendation to his statement.  “It is my opinion that our community vision is no longer shared with Lower Saucon Township Council and that must be addressed. I believe the time has come to re-exam every joint project, committee, organization and intermunicipal agreements we have with Lower Saucon Township.

And the people said, “Amen.”

While I doubt that it felt like it to the library and borough leadership who had to slog through this past week and grapple with these unwanted problems, it was in fact one of the best of times I have seen in local government in a long time.  Hellertown Borough leadership rationally analyzed the situation they’d been thrown into, honestly assessed what actions were in the best interests of their constituents first and foremost, laid out the options for their people and charted a course forward that puts them back in control of their own fate.  The Library leadership made those same calculations the day before Hellertown did.

For those of us who live in Lower Saucon, you could posit that it was the worst of times.  In four days we will lose our library access as we know it.  We have township leadership which seems almost completely divorced from the wishes of its constituents and seems unperturbed by that disjunction.  And did I mention?  The township manager resigned on Wednesday.

But I prefer to see the glass as half full.  Hellertown is now fully aware of the character of the leadership of the Township and so they will be more likely to be careful of any future partnerships they enter into.  If there is to be any hope of broader community collaboration, it can only be successful if both sides enter an agreement with transparency and honesty.

And perhaps more Lower Saucon residents will be aware of the problems that Saucon Shenanigans has been trying to alert them to over the last 19 months.  Events like this last week don’t just “happen.”  They build over time until they finally erupt into view.  But there are always fissures of smoke and noxious gas that seep out before the explosion, that give hints of the dysfunction underneath.  If there is ever to be hope of a successful Saucon Valley that includes Hellertown and Lower Saucon working in true partnership, perhaps it’s a prerequisite that all of this mess be cleared away.  

I agree with Tom Rieger.  The best could very well be yet to come.  For Hellertown and the Library, I suspect it will come fairly quickly.  For LST?  We’ll see.

NEWS Coverage

Saucon Source Article about Hellertown Meeting

Saucon Source Article about Township Manager Resignation

Morning Call Article about Hellertown Meeting

Morning Call Article about Township Manager Resignation

Democracy Dies in Darkness

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has been paying any attention to the shenanigans of the Lower Saucon Township council in the last two years, at their organizational meeting on Monday, January 3, they took another giant step toward drawing the curtain on citizen involvement in township business.  By a 4-1 vote (Mrs. deLeon dissenting), they passed Resolution #31-2022, Revision of Agenda Policy and Code of Conduct for Council Meetings.  Basically the resolution relegated public comment to one period before the business meeting begins, limited to 3 minutes per resident commenter on agenda items, and to one period after the entire meeting is complete, limited to 3 minutes per resident commenter on non-agenda items.

What This Means for Wednesday’s Meeting

How, you might ask, will this change to the policy really make any difference?  We can still comment.  To get a good idea of how this works, let’s look at the upcoming meeting on Wednesday.  

There is only one agenda item under Township Business – A. Discussion Regarding Library Services.  It comes AFTER the public comment period.

So suppose you’re a township resident who really wants to support continued connection with the Hellertown Area Library.  You want to comment on that with your 3 minutes of time.  What exactly are you going to say that will be directed at the proposed actions of the council?  How will you know what those proposed actions are?  

You can’t find them on the agenda.  All it says is “Discussion Regarding Library Services.”  The supporting documentation only says “Council will be discussing library service issues and after the discussion may take official action on library service issues.”  What will that official action be?  How can you comment on it intelligently?  How can you make alternative suggestions to what they might propose?  How do you know if they’ll propose any action at all? If they don’t, library membership will cease on January 31. How about if they’re proposing to re-join Bethlehem Area Public Library which is much more expensive? Or some other more distant library?  Remember, you can only comment in that brief period before the business meeting begins.  You have no idea what they’re planning to do.

The Library is rallying supporters to attend the January 19 meeting as a show of strength for continued connection with the Library.  I’m assuming they’re hoping that quite a few people will want to speak to that subject.  To what end?  The council members will have no requirement to listen to what they say or act on what they support.  You’ll have no opportunity to ask specific questions about any part of what they discuss or decide.  You’ll be – to be blunt – muzzled.

Now do you see how this works?

If you want more detail on the other travesties imposed by this resolution, please refer to the last issue of Saucon Shenanigans (You’re About To Be Muzzled) where I go into detail on the variety of ways that dissent is stifled, including changes to the agenda process that prevent anything that the majority doesn’t want discussed from being added to the agenda.

Josh Popichak in his two articles on the council meeting in Saucon Source provides a detailed description of the debate around both the revision of the meeting rules and the objections to the proposed withdrawal from the Hellertown Library.  I urge you to read them both.  

In addition to what we’re about to witness on Wednesday, the January 3 meeting gave us a pretty good idea of the kind of shenanigans we can expect going forward.

Skipping the Public Comments

Following the opening activities of the Jan. 3 meeting, President Sandra Yerger explained the public comment procedure and then skipped right over it to the election of the council president.  It just whizzed right by, in spite of the fact that there was a large number of citizens present including at least one woman with a poster supporting the Hellertown Library.  Did Yerger think they were there just for the fun of it when there was no library item on the agenda?

Instead of public comment, the council elected Banonis as president.  No surprise there.  He of course immediately took over. Then in a bizarre move, the council elected brand-new, no-experience-necessary Jennifer Zavacky as vice president.  With three other council members with experience, why would you elect the newbie?  Not sure, unless you’re looking for a rubber stamp in that position who has no experience with township business.  

At this point, the person with the poster supporting the library brought it to the attention of the council that they seemed to have forgotten about the public comment period.  Oops!  Someone noticed!  There followed comments from no fewer than (by Banonis’ count) 18 residents, all uniformly opposed to severing ties with the Hellertown Area Library and/or considering connecting to another area library.  Not only were there several children in the audience accompanying their parents, but there was also this young gentleman – second-grader Lincoln Haupt – who rose to speak about his positive experiences with the library and who urged the council “to find ways to get more people to these programs–not cut the programs.”

Lincoln Haupt addresses the Lower Saucon Township Council.

He received a round of applause from the audience and platitudes from Banonis which is more than most speakers received.  Most of the time they would have noticed that Banonis couldn’t even be bothered to look up from whatever was of such enormous interest on the desk in front of him.

It was disconcerting to hear how many of the speakers were shocked and surprised by the council’s consideration of abandoning the library because they could have seen it coming.  Saucon Shenanigans has been pointing out this kind of high-handed maneuvering for quite some time.  And in fact, we’ve seen something like this movie before.

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane.  We don’t have to go far, only back to the Fall of 2020.  If you recall, Banonis and Carocci had been more than a bit annoyed at the time about how long it was taking for Lower Saucon Fire Rescue and the Steel City Fire Company to complete their merger.  This was in spite of the explanations from both fire companies about the difficulties in completing a merger that required PA government involvement during a time of Covid lockdown.  Remember, this was even pre-vaccines.  

In a maneuver that would be much harder to pull off now since the changes in the Sunshine Act this past summer, at the October 7, 2020, council meeting, after the business portion of the meeting was over and during the reports portion, Carocci introduced a motion to add a footnote to the 2021 budget that would put a tight timeline on the merger accompanied by punitive financial actions if the merger were not completed.  Apparently he felt that the fire companies were disrespecting the Council and not showing appropriate deference to a group that was giving them money.

Let’s be clear – what we witnessed in that whole process was simple bullying, a power play to get what they wanted.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the fire companies missed the deadlines and then the Council opted to ignore their own budget footnote and bless LSFR with money and cut Steel City out of the agreement. 

Now along comes the Library which apparently disrespected the Council back in the Winter of 2021 when there was some confusion over the choice and seating of a new library Board member. At the time there were none-too-subtle allusions to the amount of funding that LST provides.  Now, with the new 5-year agreement being negotiated, Carocci and Banonis start talking about withholding funding from the library. 

Don’t be misled.  This is not about saving the township money (other library affiliations would be much more expensive) or improving library services (instead they’d disappear).  This is all about control and power and bullying.  Use funding as a cudgel to get what you want; in this case, apparently, more Board representation although the explanations for what’s holding up the signing of the agreement are pretty murky.  They might not be so murky if there had been an agenda item at the Jan. 3 meeting for a library update or if the solicitor had been there during any of this discussion since he seems to be playing a pivotal role in all this back and forth.

At least one peculiar complaint seemed to involve the fact that Hellertown wanted to be credited with the in-kind services it provides to the Library each year (the Library exists on borough property and pays the tiny rent of $1) in which case Lower Saucon wanted credit for the capital investment they made when the original agreement was made.  Seems to me, they don’t need lawyers working this out.  They need a competent accountant who can explain to the Lower Saucon Council the difference between current recurring expenses and amortized capital investment. 

Is this the kind of modus operandi we can expect for at least the next two years?  Is this good government?  

Public Comments Objections and a Clarification

Now let’s look at some of the comments raised by township residents in opposition to the change in the public comment policy.  As you may recall, I predicted that Banonis would provide a lot of blah-blah about orderly meetings necessitating these changes. In addition to that blather, he hauled out the hoary Republican justification that they were just trying to run the township “like a business.”  Thankfully, one township resident pointed out that a governmental body is not a business and should not be run like one.  Citizens are not shareholders; we are constituents.  Townships provide services to residents; they don’t sell products to customers. And their constituents have the right to raise objections directly to the council.

Barrett Geyer, whose comments you can read in detail in the Saucon Source article, also made the trenchant point that despite the new policy saying that “the purpose of Public Comment is not for residents or taxpayers to engage in argument or debate with members of Council, the Administration, or other residents…,” that is in fact exactly what the point of Public Comment is.  And it’s Council’s job to sit there and listen.

There were a number of objections to the vagueness of the wording of the policy and the lack of definition of many of the terms.  That of course is a feature, not a bug, so that Banonis can interpret the policy in whatever way suits him. Even Newbie Zavacky raised the point about the definition of “groups of people” and the limit to no more than two members of a group being allowed to speak.  It was “clarified” that that applied only to “organized” groups.  So take heed – if you’re coming to comment at future meetings, don’t join a group to do it.  Just have you and your 20 friends show up as individuals so you each can get your 3 minutes to speak.

And here’s a perfect example of how you can expect Banonis to try to enforce this policy.  Your blogger rose to ask why Mrs. deLeon’s request to have an agenda item added to the Jan. 3 meeting was denied, apparently by Township Manager Leslie Huhn.  Banonis tried to shut down the comment by claiming it was more of a question than a comment and therefore impermissible.  Really?  I think not.  I informed him that I was a member of the public; it was a comment about township behavior and it dealt specifically with a non-agenda item – and then proceeded with my question.

Huhn then replied that she was the one who did not include it on the agenda.  When I asked by what authority, she replied with a section from the Lower Saucon Administrative Code.  The problem was that the section she read had nothing at all to do with who could authorize the content of the agenda.  It dealt only with the requirements of producing the agenda (i.e. typing it up) and posting it in a timely fashion.  The township manager has no authority over the content of the agenda.  Of course by the time she had finished reading all of that and Mrs. deLeon had responded to some other points Huhn had made, my 3 minutes were up.

This is what is known by the politically correct term “gaslighting.”  If you’re not familiar with it, it means deliberately misleading others by misinterpreting information that clearly means something else.  I was always taught to call it lying.  I expect we’ll see a lot more of this.

As to the 3 minutes, I would suggest that if you are commenting and someone on Council uses up your time, that you employ the Congressional response “reclaiming my time” in order to complete your thoughts.

Courtesy of Josh Popichak from Saucon Source

What Can You Do?

If this is the kind of behavior we can expect for the next two years at least, it’s going to be a long slog.  But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.  

Keep showing up.  Fill the Council chamber even if you say nothing all meeting. Make them know you’re watching.

Question everything.  They will try to give you as little information as possible. Keep asking.

— When they try to shut you down during public comment, keep talking. Request your additional two minutes. Then request more and make them vote on it.

Use the communication channels that Banonis himself seems to want you to.  Email Council members, often and on topic.  For some reason, it seems, you should also copy Huhn on any emails.  Not sure why unless it has something to do with forcing those emails to be available for Freedom of Information Act or Right to Know requests.  I’ll research that.

Talk to your neighbors and tell them what’s happening.

Keep asking why the meetings aren’t livestreamed.  They’re hoping you’ll forget.  During the first year of Covid, there were often 30-40 viewers on those Zoom calls, sometimes more.  Some in-person meetings over the summer had less than 10 attendees.  

As my fellow Lehigh alum, Marty Baron, so pointedly added to the Washington Post masthead, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”  Here at Saucon Shenanigans, we’ll keep the light on.

Next Council Meeting – Wednesday, February 16 – 6:30 PM – Township Hall

You’re About To Be Muzzled

Welcome to the new year!  We have a lot of work ahead of us! Buckle up!

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

I know many of you are very concerned about the situation between the Hellertown Area Library and the LST Council.  That particular issue is not on the agenda for Monday’s Council meeting (more about that later), but there is something even more compelling on the agenda that needs to be confronted if we are to continue to work towards good government marked by transparency and accountability in this township. That is an attempt to revise the public comment and agenda-setting rules and regulations to clamp down on your right to present your comments to your elected representatives who, I will point out, work for you, the electorate.

This first meeting of any township in the new year is, by law, required to be an organizational meeting.   The agenda for the organizational portion is a laundry list of appointments, resolutions and approvals to set up the township to function in the new year.  While it’s tedious, it often goes fairly quickly.  Tucked into that list is election of Council president and vice-president for the new year.  Look for Banonis to be elected president.  Whoever is elected will take over immediately from Yerger.

After the organizational meeting is adjourned, the general business meeting will be convened.  This is why it’s important that you stick around through all the organizational fol-de-rol.

The first item under Township Business Items is Resolution #31-2022 – Revision of Agenda Policy and Code of Conduct for Council Meetings.  According to the supporting documentation, “Council Member Jason Banonis submitted the attached resolution for discussion and possible adoption.”  Here’s where the trouble starts.

LST resident Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, a lawyer, has provided a very concise explanation of the dangers inherent in this resolution.  With her permission, I include it here:

“Important takeaways from the proposal:

1. Residents will not be allowed to comment after each agenda item. Currently residents can comment at the beginning of the meeting [on non-agenda items] and after each agenda item. The proposal gives only one opportunity to speak at the beginning of the meeting [on agenda items] and that is all. [Ed. Note:  there is also an opportunity to speak on non-agenda items at the end of the meeting]

2. Only residents and taxpayers will be permitted to speak. Residents from Hellertown or any other municipality do not have any opportunities to speak.

3. If there is a common concern among attendees only 2 persons will be permitted to speak on that issue. The council President can cut off anyone who raises the same issue. 

4. Attendees may not “give” their time to other attendees to speak. 

5. Speakers may not question or criticize council members’ opinions or decisions. Council members have no obligation to answer questions or give dialogue on an issue.”

There’s a lot more in the complete resolution.  I suggest you read it in its entirety here (pages 49-54). where you can also compare it to the current rules that were put in place in 2020.

Much of the wording of the resolution is taken from Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act (Title 65, Chapter 7).  Of course much of it has been, shall we say, massaged for the purpose of controlling the audience.

There are some particularly egregious sections I’d like to point out.  Much of the introductory material – all the whereases – is laughable considering the past behavior of members of this council.  They are “authorized to establish a level of civility,” “promote an atmosphere of reasoned expression.”  The Council is a “strong advocate of free speech.” Really?? Gaslighting at its finest.  Go back and read minutes and blogs of previous meetings where residents and other council members were belittled, cut off, shouted down whenever the position expressed didn’t line up with the Banonis-Carocci point of view.  Ask Mrs. Stauffer if she feels that she was accorded an “atmosphere of reasoned expression” when the township’s solicitor came within inches of telling her not to speak at all. Or when Banonis made a motion(!) to mute Mrs. Stauffer in a discussion over library issues.  Or ask Mrs. deLeon about when Banonis implied that she had ulterior motives in the discussion of awarding the Berkheimer tax collector contract because Mrs. deLeon’s sister works there.

Be prepared when this resolution is introduced to hear a lot of blah-blah about more efficient meetings, less wasted time, staying on point, being civil.  It will all be bullshit.

Broad latitude is given to the Council president in the new resolution for determining what is “defamatory, contentious, scandalous, impertinent, redundant or disruptive.”  How exactly will those judgements be made?  Of course, one could argue that if the president applies the same standards as were applied the last two years to Council member behavior, there should be no problem.  All of that kind of behavior was tolerated.  Especially “redundant.” Does anyone remember sitting through Banonis’ completely redundant and superfluous recounting of the entire 2019 election cycle and judicial proceedings in his attempt to prove Mrs. Stauffer unfit for the seat to which she had just been legally appointed by the judge?  Somehow, I expect that the standards will suddenly be completely different.  

And also ask yourself, why are you as a resident subject to standards that are not applied to actual Council members?

FYI:  The resolution currently in place also allows for “scandalous, impertinent, or redundant” comments to be ruled out of order.  Guess they forgot that part in the last two years.

The Sunshine Act does not include any kind of detail regarding rules and regulations for conduct of meetings, giving the “agency” (read: township) the ability to adopt “by official action the rules and regulations necessary for the conduct of its meetings and the maintenance of order.”  But then there is one more, vitally important sentence in the Sunshine Act. “The rules and regulations shall not be made to violate the intent of this chapter.” (meaning the Sunshine Act). Do you think these rules and regulations sound like they meet that caveat?  I don’t.

Who Controls the Agenda?

As if all of this persiflage about public comment is not enough, let’s look a lot more closely at the new rules for creating a Council meeting agenda.  The current rules in accordance with the Sunshine Act say only that an agenda should be provided 3 days before a scheduled meeting.  The Sunshine Act does not speak directly to how to construct an agenda except in cases where there is an emergency, business arises 24 hours before a meeting or business arises during a meeting.  But Lower Saucon feels they need more control so witness this little beauty:

“Any Councilperson who wishes to have an item listed on an Agenda shall present a written request to the Township Manager, with sufficient detail to describe the item, at least 7 calendar days prior to the date of the meeting. The written request shall be accompanied by the assent of one other Councilperson to the request.” [emphasis added]

Currently, any Councilperson can request that an item be added to the agenda but now that person will need at least one other person to agree to it.  Hmmmm – let’s consider a hypothetical.  There’s a problem with – say – the landfill that Mrs. deLeon would like to have added to the agenda. Who is the second councilperson who will agree to that?  Banonis/Carocci?  You must be kidding.  Yerger?  She sometimes betrays a glimpse of an independent streak but I wouldn’t count on her vote.  The new member, Zavacky?  Let’s just say that it is not Republican Party practice to recruit people to run on its slate because they expect that those people will have independent thoughts and be willing to take independent action.  Especially when that slate is promoted with substantial financial support by a PAC run by the landfill’s owners.  So – no.  

What are the odds of an issue about the landfill (unless they need something approved) – or the library – or the livestreaming of council meetings – or anything else like that making it on to the township agenda under the new rules?  Practically nil. But, hey, you’ll get your lavish 3 minutes at the end of a Council meeting to bring up your concerns on that non-agenda item.

What Can You Do About This?

  • Show up for Monday’s Council meeting – 6:30 at Township Hall
  • Hang in there through the organizational meeting till the business meeting
  • When the new resolution is introduced and they call for public comment, speak up about why you object to these new rules and regulations – 3 minutes, cogent, direct

Why Isn’t the Library on the Agenda?

Now here’s an interesting event.  Mrs. deLeon requested – in writing – that an update on the library agreement situation be included on the agenda for January 3 based on the large number of inquiries and comments she had received from township residents.  Leslie Huhn, township manager, replied she didn’t think it was necessary.  Mrs. deLeon replied that she disagreed and again requested that it be put on the agenda.  It’s not there.

What gives Huhn the authority to make that decision? She’s a paid employee, not an elected official.  The new rule about a second Councilperson’s assent is not in place.  The answer:  she has/had no authority to do that. The library item should be on the agenda.

Also ask yourself, why did Banonis’ request for an agenda item get honored and Mrs. deLeon’s get ignored?

What Can You Do About This?

  • Show up for Monday’s Council meeting = 6:30 at Township Hall
  • During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting for non-agenda items, ask what the current status is with the library agreement.
  • At the same time, ask why Huhn refused to put the item on the agenda.
  • Ask what disciplinary measures will be taken to assure that this kind of employee overreach doesn’t happen again.
  • 3 minutes, succinct, cogent, direct.
  • If you don’t get a chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting, wait until the close of the organizational meeting and speak during the public comment period at the beginning of the business meeting.

Connect the Dots

I started attending township council meetings beginning in February 2020.  In that time I have observed the following:

  • Calendar Year 2020 – 21 regular council meetings, 2 special council meetings
  • Calendar Year 2021 – 17 regular council meetings
  • Calendar Year 2022 – 13 proposed regular council meetings (1 additional marked tentative)

Conclusion:  You get what you pay for.  Council people refuse compensation, then feel free to reduce amount of time spent on Council work

  • Calendar Year 2020 and 2021 – public comment limited to 3 minutes per speaker, before meeting – non-agenda items, residents; during meeting – agenda items, residents and non-residents; after meeting – non-agenda items, non-residents
  • Calendar Year 2022 – public comment limited to 3 minutes per speaker, before meeting – agenda items, residents; during meeting – none; after meeting – non-agenda items, residents

Conclusion:  Council has little interest in your comments or input

  • Prior to 2020 – agenda requirements unknown
  • Calendar Year 2020 and 2021 – agenda posted 3 days prior to meeting, items can be requested by any Councilperson; council minutes only appear when agenda appears
  • Calendar Year 2022 – agenda posted 3 days prior to meeting, items must be requested in writing 7 days before meeting, items must have assent of second Councilperson; Council minutes only appear when agenda appears

Conclusion:  Doesn’t matter if you’re an elected Councilperson, if the powers that be don’t want to discuss your issue, they won’t

Like I said, we have our work cut out for us.  Happy New Year.

Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

Next Council Meeting – Wednesday, January 19 – 6:30 PM – Township Hall

Read This Before You Vote

I covered this subject in my special election edition last weekend, but Tyler Pratt of WLVR takes a much deeper dive into the story behind the PAC Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania and the landfill money that is funding it. If you want to know more about what’s happening, take the time to read it. https://www.wlvr.org/2021/10/landfill-owner-dumps-75000-into-lower-saucon-township-council-race/?fbclid=IwAR2ruYD3SMLMP_avDw-C7VXU0GUSePLj2TYCLCTUc6JuzGSd3cuLLg5DPVI#.YX3SRy-caCc

Also, just so you are aware of what the Banonis-Carocci-Zavacky crew has been up to, they sent a cease and desist letter this week to Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, George Gress and Tom Roney demanding that they retract statements that were virtually identical to what Mr. Pratt is reporting at WLVR. When the Democratic candidates rightfully ignored that attempt at bullying, the Republicans filed for an emergency injunction in court on Friday. The request was denied.

These are the same people who claim they’re going to bring “experienced sound decision-making” to township government. What a joke.

When Is a Council Meeting Not a Council Meeting?

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!

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

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?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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

SPECIAL ELECTION EDITION

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

When I began Saucon Shenanigans in July 2020, I did so in response to some absolutely appalling behavior by elected council members that I had witnessed at repeated township council meetings over the previous few months.  I thought (hoped) that if I drew attention to how inappropriate and counterproductive such behavior was that mature, responsible adults would take positive action to improve.  In my first issue I wrote “My hope is that Council behavior will become more civil, collegial and professional as the year progresses, leading to better governance and better decisions. Increased transparency would be an improvement also.”

By and large, that hasn’t happened. Obviously my first mistake was to assume that I was dealing with mature, responsible adults.

And so here we are, 15 months later, with municipal elections fast approaching on November 2 and while I did not originally expect to endorse particular candidates in elections, I have no choice but to take a position on the best choices for Township Council and, because the local school board seems to have some of the same behaviors, Saucon Valley School Board.

SAUCON SHENANIGANS ENDORSES

For Lower Saucon Township Council Victoria Opthof-Cordaro 

George Gress 

Tom Roney 

For Saucon Valley School Board

Raquel Barbera

Vivian Demko

Robert Phillips

Tracy Magnotta

If you’d like more detail on why I’ve chosen to endorse these candidates, keep reading.

There are so many reasons why Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci do not deserve your vote to continue on township council.  I’ll try to keep it as succinct as possible.

Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

This is one of the guidelines I said I would use in writing this blog. That could hardly be more pertinent now when one looks at the egregious gaslighting that’s been pouring into our mailboxes from their campaign mailers.

“Cut your Earned Income Tax by 20% in 2021”  – NO

No, they didn’t cut your earned income tax by anything.  The statute that permits the collection of an additional .25% in EIT for the purpose of purchasing land for conservation has a sunset provision.  That means that it MUST be ended after a certain period of time.  The extra .25% has been in place for 15 years.  BY LAW, it must be ended.  They had nothing to do with it except to pass the facilitating ordinance, about which they had no choice.

“Refused Council pay – saving thousands of your dollars”  – MISLEADING 

This one appeared on a particularly ugly mailer implying that the Democratic candidates were trying to reap personal financial benefits from the Township by accepting the compensation provided for council members.  The applicable township ordinance regarding council member compensation reads as follows:

“Salary of Council members. [Amended 4-18-1990 by Ord. No. 90-6; 12-27-1995 by Ord. No. 95-9] (1) Each member of the Council, elected or appointed to office on or after the effective date of this chapter, shall [emphasis added] receive the maximum annual compensation provided and allowable by the Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. § 65606, titled “Compensation of Supervisors,” and by law.”

That does not say “may”.  It says “shall”.  It is not negotiable.  In fact, I would question whether it’s in violation of the ordinance to not accept the pay or whether the council person should be paid (with taxes, etc. deducted and reportable as income) and then, if they choose, donate it to wherever they like. At the May 6, 2020, council meeting, after that question was raised, the Council passed a motion to inquire of PSATS (the state advisory organization for municipalities) if a W-2 is required based on the fact that the ordinance says “shall.” While the motion passed, there has been no subsequent report on the answer to that question. Wonder why.

Incidentally, those thousands of dollars?  Do you know what compensation is for a township council person?  $3,250 per year.  That’s right.  Adding Social Security and Medicare taxes, it comes to $3,498.62 per year.  For 3 council people, that totals $10,495.88.  Do you know what the township’s budget is?  For 2022, it’s $11,765,557 or for just the General Fund, $8,458,775.

Some quick math

$10,495.88 divided by $11,765,557 = .0009 (that’s .09%) OR

$10,495.88 divided by $8,458,775 (for the General Fund) = .0012 (that’s .12%)

They’re touting that they will save the township a whopping 0.09% of the budget by not taking their compensation.  Or in relation to the General Fund – 0.12%.  I call that a rounding error.  And let’s not forget that their Republican council colleague, Council President Sandra Yerger, does take her compensation and has not signed on to reject it. In fact, her vote sank the resolution that Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci tried to jam through in May 2020 asking all council members to voluntarily forego their compensation.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Not only is that a miniscule amount of money in the township’s budget, it also raises the question of why do we compensate people at all for the job in the first place?  Perhaps because we value their service and appreciate the time they put in?  Or perhaps because we realize that it creates a consensual agreement between the citizens and their elected representatives that implies some responsibility of the elected representative to the people they serve? When you reject the compensation, are you also rejecting that responsibility?

If Lower Saucon Township were living on the brink of bankruptcy and had significant financial issues, this might (possibly) mean something.  But it’s not. It’s a political ploy, despite what Mr. Banonis claimed at the May 6, 2020, council meeting.  From the minutes: “Mr. Banonis said we’re not campaigning. … and it’s certainly not a campaign tool.”  Really?  Then why are you mentioning it in your campaign literature?  

And why did Mr. Carocci’s motion to request voluntary refusal of council compensation include “for the remainder of 2020 and all of 2021?”  Perhaps because he knew 2021 would be an election year?

Watch what they do, not what they say.

“Support our … fire services” – ONLY AFTER THEY BULLY THEM

Anyone who watched the shenanigans around the adoption of the 2021 budget back in October 2020 has to wonder what dictionary Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci get their definition of “support” from.  By the addition of a footnote to the 2021 budget, they required that Lower Saucon Fire Rescue (LSFR) and Steel City Fire Company complete their merger – in the middle of a pandemic and with state resources seriously overwhelmed – before they could receive any funding in 2021.  If the fire companies missed the deadline, then funding would be cut in incremental amounts down to eventually zero.  LSFR leadership objected strenuously.

The merger didn’t happen.  The deadlines passed. No funding was approved until June when all of a sudden it was just fine that they’d missed the deadline.  After all that bullying, they went ahead and fully funded LSFR and named them sole fire services provider for the township, cutting off Steel City.  

And then this October, Mr. Carocci, who loves to tout how he’s concerned about spending the residents’ money, arbitrarily suggested adding an additional $25,000, or a 12.5% increase, to the fire company budget even though LSFR had apparently not requested that amount, at least not in any public meetings.  Those poor people at the fire company must be suffering from whiplash.

“Support our … police” – UNLESS YOU’RE IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS

This hypocrisy has been covered in the most recent issue of Saucon Shenanigans (see the blog archives “What’s the Rush, Boys?”).  I urge you to read the details there.  It boils down to Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci, abetted by Mrs. Yerger, approved $2500 per person Covid bonuses to all township employees EXCEPT the union police officers, supposedly because the township was in negotiation with the police union over a new contract.  Of course, the details of that agreement had already been accepted the same night that the bonuses were awarded and Mr. Banonis argued that one had nothing to do with the other except, apparently, it did.    

“Sound fiscal management” – BUT ABOUT THAT $920,000 EXCESS IN THE BUDGET           

It’s astonishing that no one ever asks why for several years now the township has been adopting a budget that contains such a huge excess. Yeah, yeah, they tout that they “permanently” reduced township taxes by 20%, but why do you need an almost $1 million slush fund each year? The excuse used to be that they were stockpiling money for when the landfill gets built out, but no one’s mentioned that lately.  (See below). And any planning for future development in the township to offset such a closure seems to have flown out the window in the last year also. Again, why is that?

And FYI, there’s no such thing as “permanently” reducing township taxes.  They can raise them again whenever they want to.

Follow the Money

That’s one of the other guidelines I said I would use in writing this blog.  So let’s look at a little history.

In 2015, the IESI Bethlehem landfill needed to expand to continue operations, an expansion called the Southeastern Realignment.  That same year, a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania suddenly popped up stating that it was supporting three Republican candidates for LST council – Sandra Yerger, the current Council president, Tom Maxfield, and Bill Ross – in the May 19 primary that year. The $20,950 in contributions to the PAC came substantially ($20,000) from the landfill company (IESI Bethlehem) as well as an in-kind contribution of $500 from IESI NY Corp which oversaw the Bethlehem landfill and $450 from residents of the township. The bulk of the money was paid to Mercury Public Affairs of NY for producing mail pieces and other services. And the in-kind services were provided by Andrew Moss, an attorney who worked for Progressive Waste Solutions.

The expansion was subsequently approved.  

Fast forward to 2021.  Another landfill expansion is again on the table, this one for the Northern Realignment. And just in time for the general election, up pops our old friend, Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania, only this time with a mailing address in Crompond, NY instead of in Hellertown.  This time they’re in it for much bigger money.  This PAC has received $75,000 in contributions from Waste Connections US, Inc., a firm headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas, that happens to be the parent company of – wait for it – IESI Bethlehem landfill.  And who is this “independent expenditure organization” supporting?  Why, the three Republicans running for LST Council – Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky.

Coincidence, you say?  This iteration of the PAC reports that its chairperson is one Andrew Moss of Cortlandt Manor, NY (sound familiar?). He conveniently has also provided a mailbox for the PAC.  And the mail pieces and other campaign literature, GOTV and political consulting services, website and internet services? All the work of one Mercury Public Affairs, now apparently headquartered in Tampa, FL.  

Of course, the local developer, David Spirk, who previously headed up Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania back in 2015 has been replaced by the above-mentioned Mr. Moss as chairperson and one Adwoa Boateng as treasurer, another New York state resident.  What’s with all this NY interest in Lower Saucon? But you can find Mr. Spirk as an in-kind contributor to the Zavacky Carocci Banonis for Lower Saucon Township Council Committee along with a few other prominent area developers.  

Then if we go back to January 2021 and remember that Mr. Banonis and Mr. Carocci, in a very ugly reorganizational meeting, forced Mrs. deLeon, who had decades of experience working as the council landfill committee liaison and who was content to remain as the liaison, out of her position so she could be replaced by Mr. Carocci, you might start to see some dots emerging that could possibly be connected.  Because of course you wouldn’t want someone with extensive landfill experience to be the liaison to support the township’s committee.  As I recall they objected that Mrs. deLeon was too confrontational.  Wouldn’t want that.

But, there’s probably nothing there.  As we all know, PACs are not permitted to coordinate with candidates’ campaigns and that never happens (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).  

On the other hand, if you find this all plausibly coincidental, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

Put all this together and ask yourself.  Is this who you really want running this township for the next two to four years? How do the residents of Steel City, butted right up against the landfill, feel about this? Do you think your concerns will be adequately addressed? And do you really want the boorish, arrogant bullying that we’ve witnessed over the last two years to be the face that Lower Saucon presents to the world?  

As to the third member of the slate, Mrs. Zavacky, well, you’re known by the company you keep.

Vote Opthof-Cordaro – Gress – Roney

School Board Choices

I don’t usually cover the Saucon Valley School Board but I have a few comments to make in that regard since how we educate our children is essential to the future of our world.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The current board is also engaging in a good deal of gaslighting as well.  There’s been a lot of mealy-mouthed equivocating on the subject of masking, at least until Governor Wolf took the decision out of the hands of such people as serve on the current board. (Thank you, Governor Wolf.). This should have been the easiest decision they had to make.  Their first and foremost responsibility is to keep our children safe and then, once that’s taken care of, to provide them with an effective education.  And while they love to tout that they were the only district to keep in-person learning available all last year, they fail to mention that they did it by requiring masking.  So faced with the same responsibility this school year, they dithered and vacillated and came up with a convoluted solution designed to guarantee no level of safety. And now they want you to re-elect them.  No thanks.

As for the Republican candidate who claims to be a victim of racism, any white man who wakes up in this country and claims he’s a victim of racism is either delusional or too uneducated to be allowed to sit on a school board.

Vote Barbera – Demko – Phillips – Magnotta

ELECTION DAY – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2021 – POLLS OPEN AT 7 AM.  OR RETURN YOUR MAIL-IN BALLOT BY NOVEMBER 2 AT 8 PM