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New Year, New Council, New Direction

In an atmosphere of joy and exuberance, Lower Saucon Township residents packed the Town Hall meeting room to overflowing to witness the swearing-in of newly-elected Council members Laura Ray and Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, newly re-elected Council member Priscilla deLeon and newly-elected Controller Lynn Hill on Tuesday, January 2, 2024.  As Judge Brian Panella, himself newly sworn in that very day, administered the oath to each woman, the crowd applauded and cheered.  It was a decided improvement to the tension-filled climate we’ve endured for the last two years!

NEW OFFICERS

The first important order of business was the election of officers.  Mrs. deLeon was elected President; Ms. Ray was elected Vice-President.  Both votes were 3-1 since Banonis – to no one’s surprise – voted “no” on both choices.  As to Carocci’s vote?  We have no clue because he didn’t bother to show up for the meeting.  Neither did he provide any explanation for why he wasn’t there.  Illness?  Out of town?  Stuck at work?  That’s real commitment to his constituents.

FULFILLING CAMPAIGN PROMISES

Once Mrs. deLeon received the gavel from Banonis, which she had to ask for (he didn’t offer it after losing his office), the new council proceeded to make significant progress on many of the promises they had made during their campaign.  In short order, they voted to:

  1. Schedule two council meetings per month except for July and August, not just one which the previous majority used as a mechanism to reduce providing information to the public.
  2. Schedule a meeting on January 11 at 6:30 PM to reopen the 2024 budget for discussion.  This is permitted by law whenever there has been a change in Council membership.  It’s lucky for LST because it will allow the new Council to repair some of the damage created by the ill-advised and mean-spirited actions taken by the previous Council in retaliation for having lost the November 7 election.  More on that below.
  3. Hire a new solicitor.  This move was also met with applause from the residents in the audience.  The new solicitor is Attorney Mark Freed from the law firm of Curtin and Heefner.  He is currently the solicitor for Solebury Township and is experienced in environmental law and public sector law among other areas. His remit for LST includes general/civil solicitor, planning commission solicitor and EAC solicitor.  His firm of Curtin and Heefner will also serve as LST’s labor solicitor.
  4. Restructure council liaison appointments to the various volunteer boards.  Mrs. deLeon, Ms. Ray and Mrs. Opthof-Cordaro will serve as the liaisons to the various boards.
  5. Adopt a new agenda and code of conduct policy.  In response to what residents have complained was a policy that limited comment and participation, the new Council’s policy allows for input from not just township residents and taxpayers, but also from others who might be affected by Council decisions.  In addition, comment periods on agenda items were moved from the beginning of the meeting where they were made in the dark because so little information was made available about specific agenda items, to comment at the time of each agenda item, allowing for much more informed comment.  The despised 3-minute comment limit was also amended to 5 minutes with the option of additional time upon request.  That option previously was seldom granted unless the speaker was in favor of what the Council wanted to do.  And because of bundling all agenda item comments at the beginning of the meeting, the 3-minute limit applied regardless of the number of agenda items that the commentor wanted to discuss. That’s gone.  Likewise, the requirement that an item could only be added to the agenda if there were 2 council members who requested it has been jettisoned.  That previous policy, because of the 4-1 council split, had guaranteed that Mrs. deLeon could not get items added to the agenda, thereby disenfranchising all the residents she represented.  The agenda will now be developed in collaboration between the Council president and Township Manager Mark Hudson.
  6. Appoint residents to openings on the various township volunteer boards.  The new Council had solicited applications from the general public and had a wealth of applicants from which to choose with openings available for new people to participate in township affairs.

That ended the reorganization meeting.  A regular business meeting followed.

MORE PROMISES KEPT

The agenda for the regular business meeting also included items that the new Council members had campaigned on.  Many of the items will take time to resolve but the groundwork was laid for progress on a number of critical issues.

  1.  The Council by a 3-1 vote authorized the staff to prepare an ordinance for Council review amending the zoning that had been put in place over considerable objection for an area of Easton Road.  The previous rezoning had been to turn residential zoning into light manufacturing.  A very well-attended hearing back on March 22, 2023, had 17 residents testifying, only one of whom supported the rezoning.  At the January 2 meeting, two residents opposed the rezoning back to R-40.  Because of the quantity of comments the new Council members had received while campaigning about opposition to the original zoning change, they have requested this new ordinance in order to revisit the zoning and consider returning it to residential. 
  2. Council asked Mark Hudson to work with the new solicitor to investigate making Council and other township meetings two-way, in the style of Zoom that was available during Covid.
  3. Council voted to re-open the 2024 budget at the January 11, 2024, meeting as is permitted by regulations.  
  4. Council agreed to pay Hellertown Area Library the $98,237.26 in library fees still owing from 2022 when LST refused to sign an agreement for library services but still demanded that they be offered by HAL.  This would cover the unpaid fees up until December 31, 2022, when LST was removed at its own request from the HAL service area.  This would also be a first step in opening negotiations with HAL on a new agreement for future library services and repairing the relationship between the two municipalities.
  5. The solicitor was asked to review all current township litigation and provide a summary to the Council on status and possible steps forward.
  6. Council decided to seek a new landfill consultant to provide guidance on landfill management.

All of these items were covered in the regular business meeting, a fairly impressive record of movement forward for the first meeting.  Upon passing a motion to adjourn, the Council members were again acknowledged with a round of applause from the residents in the audience.

THE SKUNK AT THE GARDEN PARTY

I had hoped that when the Saucon Valley Together slate won election on November 7, 2023, that I could perhaps consider retiring from Saucon Shenanigans but I figured I’d wait to see how the remaining meetings of 2023 were handled by the outgoing majority.  If you read the Saucon Shenanigans blogs dated November 15 and December 20, you’ll easily see that the ugly behaviors we had come to expect only got worse.  So I reluctantly extended my observations until the new Council majority took over.  Sad to say, even now that he’s out of the majority, Banonis’ behavior at the January 2 meeting was appalling, so bad that at one point President deLeon had to call a recess because Banonis refused to stick to the agenda item under discussion and was bloviating on unrelated concerns. And of course, Carocci didn’t even bother to show up.

Of the 12 actions listed above, all 12 were passed by a vote of 3-1.  There was not a single one that Banonis voted in favor of.  In addition, there were some silly(?), ridiculous(?), hypocritical(?) comments and complaints on his part that indicated absolutely no interest in trying to work at all collaboratively with the new Council majority.  Here’s a short list:

  1.  He claimed that he had been given no information on the new solicitor and that that implied that there had been violations of the Sunshine Act if the new councilmembers had had meetings either with the solicitor or with each other.  This is laughable considering that whenever the Sunshine Act was mentioned during his tenure as president, he always insisted – backed up by the previous solicitor – that nothing like that had happened even though it seemed quite clear that there were machinations that happened behind the scenes.  What’s laughable is that the Sunshine Act doesn’t apply to people who are not elected officials and until January 2 when Mrs. deLeon, Ms. Ray, and Mrs. Opthof-Cordaro were sworn in, they were not elected officials governed by the Sunshine Act.  Shows you how much he knows about the Sunshine Act.
  2. Banonis complained that there were no credentials offered for new committee appointees or for the new solicitor.  When was the last time any of us saw any kind of credentials for any of the previous council’s appointees?  Answer: never as committees were stacked with the majority’s toadies and yes-men (almost always men).
  3. Banonis opposed the amendment for rezoning of Easton Rd. because 2 (2!) people showed up to oppose it at the January 2 meeting and that should be enough to stop it. He neglected to mention the 16 who had shown up to oppose the original rezoning back in March and somehow he didn’t think the more than 100 residents who have opposed the dump rezoning repeatedly counted either. Kind of bizarre math again.
  4. Once again Banonis told the story about Lower Merion School District (note:  school district, not municipality) being sued because they kept too much of the tax money from the residents.  This is at least the second or third time that we’ve been told this story and always there are some components missing.  A school district is not a municipality and they have different reserve needs.  The Lower Merion suit happened because Lower Merion wanted to raise taxes in addition to the amount they held in reserve, not keep the tax structure the same.
  5. Once again we got the lie about inflation being really high and therefore people need to get their money back.  Once again I will point out that as of November 2023, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 3.1% [https://www.bls.gov/cpi/] and the rate used by the Federal Reserve to inform interest rates, the six-month core PCE inflation rate, stood at 1.9% [https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/us-annual-inflation-slows-further-below-3-november-2023-12-22/]. Neither of those numbers qualify as “high inflation”.
  6. In discussions about paying the delinquent library amounts to HAL, Banonis once again chose his fall-back position on most things – litigation.  He threatened that the township could be sued because the library services were not put out to bid.  This is a fascinating and unique explanation of why we didn’t pay HAL and why we shouldn’t pay them now.  It only took him 2 years to come up with it.  And just exactly how do you bid out “library services”?  It’s not like there are a lot of nearby libraries interested in providing LST with those kinds of services as we’ve learned from the failed courtship of Southern Lehigh Public Library and equally fruitless contacts with other libraries.  He then proceeded to claim that paying the money to HAL is “immoral.”  That’s a word he probably should take a lot more care in using since it doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to him as it does to most of the rest of township.

So, I’ll continue to write Saucon Shenanigans after each council meeting and fill LST residents in on what’s happening.  

I encourage you to attend the budget meeting tonight (Thursday, January 11) at 6:30 PM and the regular township meeting next Wednesday, January 17 at 6:30 PM.  

And one more item.  In the December 20 issue of Saucon Shenanigans I promised that I would continue to remind residents that the revised budget with the reduction in the millage rate passed at the December 6 meeting was not the budget that the previous council campaigned on.  That budget, which they created, had no change in the millage rate.  The change only suddenly came about when they lost the November 7 election.  The purpose was clear – to say “see, they increased taxes” when the new Council made the responsible move to restore the previous tax rate and to make it more difficult to forego the blood money from the dump in the future.  They even have their local yellow journalism outlet creating headlines about the new Council “set[ting] the table for tax increases.”  No, the new Council is just responsibly returning the tax rates to the ones the old council had budgeted for.    They can scream and yell about this all they want for as long as they want.  I’ll keep reminding you it’s a lie.


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