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CODSWALLOP, TWADDLE AND CLAPTRAP – Take Another Spin on the Library-Go-Round

If you haven’t heard, the LST council has called a special council meeting for Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at 6 PM at Town Hall.  Here are the only business items on the agenda:  A. Discussion on Southern Lehigh Public Library’s correspondence dated February 24, 2023 — 1. Possible action on SLPL offer to provide “Limited” Library Services — 2. Possible action on sending a proposal to SLPL for “Full” Library Services.

First, I urge you to be there if you can.  There will be the usual public comment periods – before the meeting on agenda items and after the meeting on non-agenda items.  Of course, you won’t know what they’re proposing to do about those agenda items so good luck commenting intelligently on what they’re proposing to do.  But you can at least come and express your support for reconnecting with Hellertown Area Library (HAL) and dropping this ridiculous attempt to hook up with Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL).  

I don’t know why they’ve suddenly discovered such a compelling interest in solving this problem after months of total inactivity but, unlike Solicitor Treadwell who sees no problem in imputing motives to people he knows nothing about (see letter dated 3/20/23, Treadwell to Leeson – “a small minority of LST residents who are attempting to force LST to capitulate to the financial demands made by HAL” and later “a small number of LST residents who appear to have an agenda that hurts the long term financial health of SLPL”), I will simply suggest that it’s long past time that this council got its act togther to solve this problem of their own creation.

Unlike the usual agendas we get from the council that provide minimal context or support documentation, for this meeting we are graced with copies of 4 letters relevant to the discussion.  You can find all of them here: https://go.boarddocs.com/pa/lowersaucontwp/Board.nsf/public.  I will be referring to them in this blog, as well as minutes from previous council meetings.  Let me add that in reading this correspondence I am not surprised that there has been a reluctance to keep us apprised of discussions regarding the library situation.  This is a steaming pile of, as Colonel Potter used to say, “horse hockey.”

In order to prepare for Tuesday’s meetings, I suggest you consider the following items:

LST Residents Concern About Possible Connection to SLPL

Ltr, 3/20/23, Treadwell to Leeson:  “The SLPL representatives appear to be placing an inordinate amount of emphasis on the opinions of a small group of LST residents who appeared at the SLPL January 17, 2023, Board meeting.  I have reviewed the minutes from that meeting, which indicate that 7 individuals spoke and suggested that SLPL not provide full library services to LST residents.  The minutes also indicate that 21 LST residents sent emails suggesting the same.”

Let’s consider the fact that the 7 individuals who spoke (which did not include all the individuals who attended), represents 7 more people than the number of LST Council members (excluding Priscilla deLeon who has attended several SLPL Board meetings) who have ever bothered to attend an SLPL Board meeting in spite of repeated requests from the SLPL Board for LST Council members to appear in person to explain what exactly they would like. Nor have any LST residents spoken to the SLPL Board in favor of the proposed merger.

Then consider that the 21 LST residents who took the time to send emails suggesting that a merger between LST and SLPL might not be a good idea represents 21 MORE LST residents than sent emails supporting the idea.  While Treadwell chooses to identify this as “a small group”, it’s bigger than his.

Treadwell also fails to mention that a larger group of LST residents attended the February 13 SLPL Board meeting as well as a group of LST residents at the March 14 SLPL Board meeting.  No supporters of the proposed partnership from LST were present at either of those meetings.

Not Subject to Political Considerations

Please try not to spit out your gum when you read this one.  Treadwell refers to comments that were made by SLPL Board members in a Southern Lehigh School District (SLSD) meeting in which they mentioned the November election and the “political climate” in LST, based on comments they claim were made by LST residents about waiting until after the November elections to make any decision regarding a partnership.  I can attest to the fact that that argument was made because I was one of the people making it.  Treadwell then, apparently with a straight face, writes [Ltr, 3/20/23, Treadwell to Leeson] “Please allow me to respectfully suggest that library services should not be subject to political considerations.”

Have you stopped laughing yet? It’s true that in a township run by leaders of good faith and concern for the community good, a decision for library services should not be a political one.  It should be based on what’s good for the community and the desires of the community balanced against what the community can afford. But there are a few problems here:

  1.  The proposals that LST has made for partnership with SLPL would actually end up costing more than the previous partnership with HAL.
  2. The majority of LST residents who have registered their position on the library question publicly have clearly indicated they are opposed to partnership with SLPL.
  3. When township leadership keeps discussions of proposed partnerships secret and refuses to share the effects that their decision will have on residents (i.e. not providing information on what library status will be after 12/31/22), and when leadership expresses clear disdain and disinterest in the public comments made by residents against the proposed partnership with SLPL, then the residents are left with no recourse that is not political.  If they won’t listen, then you vote them out.
  4. It is only prudent for SLPL to be aware of the political climate in LST in case they put in place an agreement that can be withdrawn whenever new leadership takes over and suddenly decides they don’t want to support a library.  Certainly HAL never expected that to be the case when they entered into an agreement with LST, but they got screwed anyway because the agreement did not take into account the possibility of a change in the political leadership.

No Means No

Moving on.  From Ltr, 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson, “If SLPL is not interested, then please ask your client [meaning the SLPL Board] to just say that so that LST can pursue other options.”  How many times must SLPL say it’s not interested until LST Council hears the message?  In January 2022, LST Council proffered a check for $50,000 to SLPL which they refused.  In May, LST tried again, issuing a new check for $50,000, under what authority is not clear.  But that’s an issue for another day. Under pressure from some of their funding partners, SLPL accepted the check but only after requiring a letter from Treadwell clearly stating that there were no expectations of services from SLPL because of the payment.  I believe the words that Board President Bruce Eames used at the time were “the Board accepts this donation with serious trepidation.” Not exactly a rousing endorsement of a future partnership.

By September, the SLPL Board had felt it was incumbent upon them to do some serious financial number-crunching to see what this proposed partnership would cost them.  The preliminary numbers prepared for the September SLPL board meeting indicated at least a $153,217 operating budget shortfall as well as an additional cost of about $150,000 to add required space to accommodate increased staff, patronage and books.  Following consideration of that reality plus the significant amount of time that the SLPL Board felt they had already invested in a proposed partnership they did not want, the Board advised LST that they would do no more work on the idea until LST Council sent a Council representative to a regular SLPL Board meeting to explain why they wanted a partnership and until LST listed the proposed partnership as an agenda item on a regular Council meeting agenda so that LST residents could comment on it.  LST Council didn’t reply.  I was at the SLPL Board meeting and it certainly sounded to me like “ball’s in your court.  We don’t want to do this, so if you do, take the time and effort to tell us why.”

Sometime prior to the January SLPL Board meeting, Treadwell suggested that LST would be willing to pay SLPL $10,000/month in exchange for library services.  The response to that suggestion is the letter dated February 24, 2023, from Leeson to Treadwell.  It sounds like another attempt at “no” to me.  Now we get Treadwell’s letter of 3/20/23 back to Leeson trying once again to push a 10-year funding/service arrangement.  Are ye deef, mon?

The 5 Inane Questions

Next up a collection of questions the answers to which are so obvious that it seems ridiculous to waste the paper to answer them.  But here goes. And maybe it will save SLPL’s solicitor some time and SLPL’s Board some money by replying here.

  1.  Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson: “Why does the SLPL proposal offer only ‘limited’ library services to LST residents, in return for a contribution of $3,750.00 per month, when it offers ‘full’ library services to other municipalities for less?”  Because SLPL identifies to OCL that it has included those other municipalities in its home library service area.  They don’t want to include LST in that designation so it’s an apples to oranges comparison.  SLPL can create whatever separate agreement they want with LST.
  2. Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson: “Why is the SLPL proposal specifically designed to prohibit LST from having any representation on the SLPL Board when other municipalities have SLPL Board representation yet provide a smaller contribution?”  Duh.  See answer to question #1. In the insurance trade this is called risk management.
  3. Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson: “Has the SLPL Board considered offering to sell library cards to LST residents?…” Yes, it would be a terrific idea to spend the time and energy to put together a plan to sell library cards to LST residents to accommodate all the 99 (as I believe was reported at the last SLPL Board meeting) LST residents who have acquired SLPL cards since January 1, 2023.  And I know for a fact that at least some of them only did that until HAL put their program in place.  Those people immediately switched back to HAL.
  4. Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson:  “Why does it appear that the majority of the SLPL Board is relying on statements and information provided by a small number of LST residents who appear to have an agenda that hurts the long term financial health of SPL?”  Perhaps it’s because those LST residents have been the only ones to show SLPL the courtesy of coming to their meetings and sharing their concerns with SLPL directly.  And also because SLPL’s own internal estimates indicate that a partnership with LST is what will damage the long term financial health of SLPL.
  5. Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson:  “…What is standing in the way of this type of an arrangement?”  How about the LST Council’s demonstrated perfidious behavior in regards to HAL and SLPL’s unwillingness to open themselves to the same risk?

Just Who Works for Whom Here?

Treadwell claims that statements by SLPL Board members at the March 13, 2023, meeting are incorrect in their claim that LST requested that HAL remove LST from its service area.  He says, “At no point did LST request that HAL unilaterally remove LST from its service area.” [Ltr.3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson]. He then goes on to attach a letter from him to HAL counsel Mark Aurand [Ltr. 5/20/22 Treadwell to Aurand] that states as part of a proposal that “HAL and the Township will cooperate to remove the Township from the HAL direct library service area, effective at the conclusion of 2022.  This cooperation will include HAL removing the Township from the request for state funding to be received in 2023, notification of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and any other necessary actions required to effectuate such removal.”

However this letter does not comport with the resolution passed by the Council on May 18, 2022, which reads as follows:

“Mr. Banonis moved to direct our Solicitor to issue a letter to the HAL, directing the library to not include LST’s population in its application to the Office of Commonwealth of Libraries (OCL) for State Funding for calendar year 2023 and also issue a letter to the OCL advising it that it should not include LST’s population in its calculations for the formulation of State Funding for 2023….” [Council Minutes, May 18, 2022, page 3.]. When you “direct” the library to not include LST’s population in its application, you are not making a proposal that HAL and the Township “will cooperate”.  You are unilaterally instructing HAL to remove us from their direct library service area. Likewise if you issue a letter to the OCL “advising it” to not include LST’s population in its calculations for state funding, you are not seeking a cooperative solution with HAL in communications with OCL on the calculations for state funding.

So the council gives the solicitor specific direction on what they want communicated to HAL and then the solicitor redefines his instructions and communicates something different.  Is that how this is supposed to work?   And then uses his arbitrary changes to the council instructions to claim that “at no point did LST request that HAL unilaterally remove LST from its service area”? [Ltr. 3/20/23 Treadwell to Leeson]. Just exactly who works for whom here and what is a solicitor’s responsibility to follow the directions the council provides to him?  If he’s going to revise the instructions in the resolution, isn’t it his responsibility to come back to the council to request a revised resolution?

All Those Times Library Services Were On the Agenda

Treadwell claims in his letter of 11/4/2022, to Karley Biggs Sebia, Solicitor at the time for SLPL, that “the Lower Saucon Township Council has held multiple public meetings where ‘library services’ was a specifically identified agenda item”.  This is just wrong unless the definition of “multiple” is “2”.  From the January 19, 2022, council meeting when “Discussion Regarding Library Services” was listed on the published agenda, an item related to library services appeared only one more time on the published agenda.  That was on May 18, 2022, when “Discussion Of Library Services” was an item on the published agenda.  Except for those two times, there have been no other items on any published agendas for council meetings that refer to or even hint at “library services”.  Two times in sixteen months.

As to his claim that “public comment on both agenda and non-agenda items is available at all Council meetings,” [Ltr. 11/4/22, Treadwell to Sebia] that’s a true statement.  But of the sixteen months under consideration, public comment was only available in the period BEFORE a council meeting in 2 (TWO) months, the first one being the night that the initial library bombshell was dropped and the second one on the night when the council directed HAL to remove LST from consideration for state funding.  All the other meetings required that residents sit through entire council meetings in order to comment on the status of the library problem at the end of the session.  And as anyone who has been to an LST council meeting knows, you are only allowed to “comment.”  You are gavelled down by Banonis if you ask a question and request or expect an answer or any information on the issue you’re raising.  So while it’s called a “comment” period, it should not be misunderstood as an opportunity for any real or valuable communication from the council members.  In fact, when Mrs. deLeon attempts to respond to citizens’ concerns, she is rudely and arrogantly chastised by Banonis and is told that this is not the time for council to respond.  As we all well know by now, there is NO appropriate time for council to respond to citizens’ questions or concerns because they don’t consider that their responsibility.

In Conclusion

This has been very long and if you’ve hung in here until now, you are truly a dedicated citizen.  Thank you.  I have taken the time and trouble to lay out all of this information so that you are well-prepared for the special meeting on Tuesday, April 4, when you can expect a huge serving of codswallop, twaddle and claptrap.

And just in case you think that the reason there’s no resolution for you to review that the council’s going to vote on included in the supporting documentation for the meeting, is that the council will first honestly listen to the residents who speak and then carefully consider the appropriate response to make to SLPL’s letter, then all I can say is – you haven’t been listening to what’s been going on for the last 16 months.

Hope to see you all there.


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