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WHAT WE’VE LOST – ACCOUNTABILITY

I began writing Saucon Shenanigans in 2020, the year of Covid.  That year, despite the disruption of society by the pandemic, the Lower Saucon Township Council held 23 meetings.  Beginning April 1 – and maybe we should have taken that as an omen that we were headed into Circus Town – the meetings were held via Zoom which allowed anyone to call in and to speak during a meeting by raising their hand on-screen.

At that time, there was a public comment period on non-agenda items for residents before the agenda began, comment permitted on each agenda item after it was introduced and explained, by both residents and non-residents, and a public comment period on non-agenda items for non-residents after the agenda was complete.  Commenters at any time were encouraged to keep their comments to 3 minutes although that was rather laxly enforced.  Yerger was president.

Beginning in January 2021, there were only 17 scheduled council meetings for the year.  Beginning on July 21, meetings transitioned back to in-person at Town Hall.  At that time, a number of residents requested that the Council begin work on how to provide meetings in a hybrid format – both in person and via Zoom or some other interactive method.  

In 2021 the same comment policy applied as in 2020.  Yerger was president.

NEW COMMENT POLICY

Beginning in January 2022, Banonis was elected president and announced that it was not necessary to hold so many council meetings so there were only 15 scheduled for the year.  His justification was that there was too much time spent on unnecessary discussion and that the council needed “to conduct the business meetings in an orderly and fair fashion.”1 You know, like those business meetings that are so productive. Or as resident George Kramer commented, “government is not a business. While you conduct business, government is for the people…”2

At the same time Banonis introduced a revision to the public comment policy that included, among other things, a restriction of comments to ONLY residents and taxpayers of the township, no one else.  There would be a comment period on agenda items only before the agenda began and a comment period on non-agenda items only after the agenda was complete.  Comments were restricted to 3 minutes and shortly after this resolution was passed, a large digital clock with bright red numbers was installed in the meeting room at Town Hall, controlled by a township staff member, to make sure no one exceeded the 3 minute limit without Banonis’s blessing.

The comment policy included 26 separate statements regarding behavior, timing, and other adiaphora.  The agenda portion of the policy included a new requirement that any Councilperson who wished to have an item listed on the agenda had to accompany the request with “the assent of one other Councilperson to the request.”3

The new policy met with fierce opposition from the residents but it passed 4-1 with Mrs. deLeon voting “no.”

There were two laughable statements made by Banonis during that whole discussion which, if we had only known, were a harbinger of what was to come over the next almost two years.  In response to a question about why an item that Mrs. deLeon had requested be put on the agenda was not there (her request was to put a library update on the agenda), his response was “you can bring up any topic that you want on your Council report…There is nothing that prevents you from bringing up any topic. To suggest that this Council or this Township is somehow preventing you from putting items in the public purview is entirely inaccurate.” Ms. deLeon said, “well, it just happened–it’s not inaccurate.”4  And yet how many times have we watched either him or Carocci try to shout Mrs. deLeon down when she brings up items that are uncomfortable for them.  Plus there’s no question that the change to Resolution #31-2022 requiring two Council members to agree to a requested agenda item was made specifically to prevent Mrs. deLeon from putting items on the agenda.  Certainly Banonis and Carocci were never going to support her and sock puppet Yerger as well as here-today-gone-tomorrow Zavacky didn’t have the backbone to do it.

The second statement was directed at those who had objected to the new Resolution #31-2022 on the grounds that it restricted free speech.  He replied, “it does not.” From the minutes, “he can assure everyone it does not.  Everyone has had the opportunity to speak and they will have the opportunity to speak.”5

Everyone who has been to a Council meeting where your three minutes was not nearly enough to explain your concerns or where you were told to sit down or where you were gaveled down or where you were denied additional time to speak, raise your hand.  And then tell me if you feel you have received the opportunity to speak. And let’s not forget all of the non-resident, non-taxpaying citizens who have been denied the opportunity to speak completely.

STILL NO LIVESTREAM – SAUCON SHENANIGANS STEPS IN

Throughout 2022 there were repeated requests for audiovisual upgrades to allow the Council meetings to be livestreamed, capable of allowing two-way communication.  Nothing happened.  At the January 19 meeting, Saucon Shenanigans began livestreaming Council meetings so that township residents could see what was happening at the meetings, even though they still could not participate.

One other event occurred in 2022 which goes directly to accountability.  Resident Laura Ray had discovered that there was provision in the Administrative Code for a Citizen Forum to be held from time to time, scheduled to precede a regularly scheduled Council meeting, where residents could come and ask questions and raise concerns about township issues.  She began requesting that such a meeting be scheduled.  She was, for the most part, ignored for a variety of suspect excuses.

Finally, running out of excuses, Banonis announced that a Citizen Forum would be held on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, the night before Thanksgiving – a time that would be incredibly inconvenient for most residents to come.  Only one problem – it was not the night of a regularly scheduled meeting. Backtracking, he rescheduled the meeting for Wednesday, November 16 prior to the regular Council meeting.  The room was nicely filled with inquisitive residents. And then he and Carocci didn’t show up – at all.  Oh, they arrived in time for the regular Council meeting to start at 6:30, but not before that.  They sent Manager Mark Hudson, who was still new to the job, and Solicitor Treadwell whose stock answer to everything was “I don’t know” or “I can’t tell you that.”  Very helpful.  Sock puppets Yerger and Inglis showed up and contributed virtually nothing.  Mrs. deLeon was there and replied to what questions she could, but frankly she had as many questions as the residents had.  Although no one had as good a question as the one resident who, after one of Treadwell’s stock non-answers, looked at him and said, “And who exactly are you?

Which brings us to 2023.  This year there were 15 regular scheduled Council meetings plus two additional ones.  The additional “special” Council meetings both dealt with the dump expansion – one on July 11 and one on August 30.  The one on July 11 was scheduled for 12:30 PM, right in the middle of the work day.  The one on August 30 was scheduled for 9 AM, including a hearing, so that those who had to work were unable to attend as well.  

Oh, and we finally got a livestream YouTube channel for Council meetings.  Of course, it’s not two-way, you can’t comment and they don’t show you any other meetings besides Council, like, you know, Zoning Hearing Board or Planning Commission or Environmental Advisory Council.  

So here’s what the last four years look like:

2020 – 23 meetings

2021 – 17 meetings

2022 – 15 meetings plus Citizens Forum

2023 – 17 meetings

Less and less time to hear about, discuss, understand what’s going on in the township.  You can go from 23 to 15 meetings if you cut out most of the time for residents to speak.  You can also reduce the number of meetings if you refuse to engage with residents, even if they have questions.  Or if you behave the way this council behaves, which means you only answer questions when it suits your fancy.  Or you engage in cross-examination if you don’t like what you heard.  Or you comment in a derogatory manner after a resident has spoken.  Or you dox residents.

None of this speaks well of the accountability of these elected officials to the voters who elected them. Elected officials are also called public servants.  In Lower Saucon, except for Mrs. deLeon, not a single one of the elected officials even comes close.  They are either arrogant, self-impressed bozos who arbitrarily choose to ignore or follow their own self-made rules as it suits their purposes.  Or they are spineless puppets who can’t speak up for their constituents against the bullies who lead them around by the nose.

And the third person on that R slate?  Well, we haven’t seen much of her at Council meetings even since the primary, let alone before that. And she’s certainly never found anything to speak up about in public comment periods because I guess what they’re doing is just ducky with her.  

I’ll remind you of one thing.  Two years ago this township elected another brand new council person who had attended very few meetings before her election, had no obvious experience with elected office and who ended up being the person who made the suggestion that we dump our agreement with HAL.  That turned out really well.  Maybe we shouldn’t do that again.

1LST Council Minutes, January 3, 2022, p. 15 of 26.

2LST Council Minutes, January 3, 2022, p. 22 of 26.

3LST Resolution #31-2022.

4LST Council Minutes, January 3, 2022, p. 15 of 26.

5LST Council Minutes, January 3, 2022, p. 15 of 26.


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