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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly – Part III, The Ugly

So now we come to the Ugly.  Frankly, if you’re as disgusted as I am watching the ugly antics of Banonis, Carocci, et al either in person at the meetings or via livestream, I wouldn’t blame you if you want to skip this section.  Having to endure their behavior is like slogging through a field of horse manure.  No one should have to experience it twice.  But for those who might be unenlightened, here’s what’s been going on.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

There’s so much to choose from that it’s hard to know where to start.  Let’s lump them into categories.

Smearing Hellertown and HAL

This is one of Banonis and Carocci’s favorite sports.  No matter what the topic, they try to insert some kind of smear or innuendo about Hellertown Borough – its police force, its fire company, the naming of Heritage Day (WTF?)  or HAL – the court rulings, Solicitor Goudsouzian’s wife on the HAL Board, unproven claims about their finances.  LST residents voted for councilpersons who would repair the breach with Hellertown Borough and with HAL.  They didn’t vote for continued animosity and smear tactics.  These kinds of snarky asides just continue to exacerbate the situation.  And much of this is none of LST’s business.  So butt out until you fix your own problems.

Calls for Recusal

This one tops the list for sheer stupidity and most of it lies at the feet of Attorney Garber.  On April 17 when she spoke in the non-agenda item public comment section about the change of position that Solicitor Goudsouzian had filed, she also went into a long rant about how Ms. Opthof-Cordaro needs to recuse herself from anything to do with the Dump.  She rattled off a laundry list of activities that Ms. Opthof-Cordaro has participated in since the Dump announced their expansion intentions in November 2022 and claimed those counted as conflict of interest.  I’ll tell you, it makes me wonder where Garber went to law school.

All of Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s activities listed in great detail by Garber [see time mark 3:37 on livestream 4/17] happened BEFORE she was sworn in as a councilperson.  Newsflash!  As an ordinary citizen, she was entitled to do all that and more if she wanted to.

Ms. Opthof-Cordaro plainly ran on a platform of opposition to Dump expansion and voters knew that would be her position when they voted for her.  They made a clear choice about what they expected her to do and she’s doing it. Is Garber actually prepared to argue that candidates cannot have opinions on local issues that they might vote on?  Banonis and Carocci made it clear that they would be supporting the Dump when they ran for office.  Shouldn’t they recuse as well for not being absolutely neutral on the issue?  Can we only elect potted plants to Council positions? (Although we have had a couple of those in the past.)

Whether Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s parents think the dump expansion will devalue their property or not is immaterial to Ms. Opthof-Cordaro’s choosing to fight landfill expansion.  And Atty. Garber didn’t need a right-to-know request to find out that Ms. Opthof-Cordaro believes that proximity to landfill affects property values.  It was right there in campaign literature and Citizens for Responsible Development-LST’s website.  Interesting that Atty. Garber didn’t bring up that Ms. Opthof-Cordaro as well as CRD-LST believe that expansion of a dump affects the environmental conditions of the area and increases the risk of pollution, run-off, smells, the loss of characteristic flora and fauna and the destruction of prime forest space.  I guess it’s okay for Ms. Opthof-Cordaro to assert those views but not the ones dealing with land values.  Hypocrisy, Ms. Garber, hypocrisy!

While Ms. Opthof-Cordaro may have assisted Attorney Asteak in preparing for conditional use hearings, etc., she did that work as a volunteer – before she was elected to Council (once again for the people in the back) – and she was never Counsel of Record despite what the court reporter put in the notes.  No papers were ever filed identifying her as such.  So the court reporter can write that but it has no validity without the necessary paperwork.  I wonder if Garber ever does volunteer legal research for causes she believes in?  Probably not.

On May 1, Garber reiterated in high dudgeon the same demands for Ms. Opthof-Cordaro to recuse herself from any landfill expansion decisions.  Keep trying, Baby.  [NOTE:  A Council person can choose to recuse him/herself but a Council person cannot be forced to recuse.] She also, once again, claimed that Ms. Opthof-Cordaro “has participated as a lawyer.”  [May 1 livestream at timemark 58:45]. Do you suppose it’s getting to her that CRD-LST has been so effective in slowing down the expansion?

Back to April 17 – We were then treated to performative theater by Banonis who dramatically left the dais and sat at the witness table proclaiming he wanted nothing to do with the Council and he wouldn’t sit at the table with that Council, which sounded kind of like a resignation to some of us but, alas, it was not to be. He proceeded to call council members “despicable” and to call Solicitor Goudsouzian “deplorable” and demand his resignation. It was very amateur community theater-level acting but at least we got a clear view of Banonis’ baldspot.

Just a few points.  Garber made a big stink about the Township’s decision to reverse position on the conservation easements not being voted in public.  But many of us who were there at the time don’t remember a public vote on suing the Office of Commonwealth Libraries.  I believe we mostly found out after the fact.  Likewise, former Solicitor Treadwell, who had been given carte blanche by Banonis to handle the library issues, conducted all kinds of contacts and discussions in regard to the library situation that were never made public.  For example, members of the Southern Lehigh Library Board reported their annoyance that Treadwell would call almost weekly to pressure them into joining with LST.  Who approved those strong-arm tactics?  Why was the public not made aware of them?  And as I mentioned in the previous blog, the residents of LST were never advised of the work – for which we were paying him – that Treadwell was doing to try to organize a regional library.

Then in Carocci’s eagerness to be helpful to Banonis, he actually gave the lie to Banonis’ report of what happened at the Executive Session on April 3.  Banonis had claimed that Solicitor Goudsouzian had asked “Acting Township Manager” [that was NOT her title at the time of the Executive Session] Gorman to leave the Executive Session which was, in his estimation, completely uncalled for and he had never been in an Executive Session where the Township Manager was asked to leave [reference 4/3 Minutes, p. 2, lines 33-35] [nota bene:  she was NOT the Township Manager at the time] and blah, blah, blah but Carocci blurts out that in fact Ms. Gorman was back in the Executive Session at the time.

Lies and Smearing Residents

Let’s look at Banonis’ behavior on April 3.  “Mr. Banonis said just so the public is aware of what took place in the so-called Executive Session.  So, they entered into the Council meeting room and immediately the Interim Solicitor, Mr. Goudsouzian, sought to exclude the Acting Township Manager, Cathy Gorman from those proceedings.  Now, he’s never been in an Executive Session where the Township Manager has not been present, . . .” [April 3 Minutes, p. 2 , lines 33-35]. When I called Banonis on this lie at 6:35, I pointed out that the Council had yet to act on the agenda item (F) making Ms. Gorman Acting Township Manager so his saying that she was Acting Township Manager when she was removed was a lie.  Banonis then goes into attack mode, shouting and claiming I wasn’t there at the Executive Session so I can’t know what happened.  Well, what he had just admitted was that I shouldn’t take his word for what happened.  In other words, he admitted he’s untrustworthy.  And as Carocci’s subsequent comment at the April 17 meeting underscores, Banonis was not telling the whole story of the Executive Session since Ms. Gorman was apparently there, at least for some portion of it.  And the timing of the livestream which followed the Executive Session proves that Ms. Gorman was not yet Acting Township Manager as Banonis claimed.

In the same meeting on April 3, Banonis, in discussing the additions to the Tot Lot, called those who opposed the baseball stadium (AKA Taj Mahal) “fools” and “jackasses”. Real nice.  He then went on to claim an equivalency between paying $3 million (rounded down) for a baseball field for use by 600 people and $100K (rounded up) for use by 4.9% of the Township population (those between the ages of 2 and 5).  This is a false equivalency.  The cost of the ballfield comes to about $5,000/potential user.  The cost of the tot lot additions comes to about $186/potential user (4.9% of 11,000 LST residents = 539).  And that’s why no one spoke against the additions to the tot lot, which I’m certain really annoyed him so he couldn’t rail against us personally.  But then we’ve had more than a few examples of Banonis’ lack of fluency with numbers.

Carocci can be heard often smearing the Council members, calling them incompetent (I guess he doesn’t realize he’s a Council member too), uninformed.  At the April 3 meeting at timemark 1:44 on the livestream he calls the members of the Parks and Rec Committee “whiners on Parks and Rec”.  Nice recruitment tool.

All of this does not include all the times that meetings have descended into chaos as Banonis and Carocci refuse to abide by the adopted Code of Conduct, speak out of turn and make it impossible to hear all the smears and slanders they are throwing around.  Finally at the April 17 meeting, the transcriptionist of the minutes just throws up her hands and we get this sentence in the minutes [p. 8 lines 12-13] “(During the above time, everybody was speaking at once, so it was inaudible to get everything everyone said.)”

One of the ugliest smears was Carocci’s attack on resident Mark Ozimek at the May 1 meeting, bringing up Mr. Ozimek’s past history which is, surprise, old news.  Carocci shared tales from 1991 and implied that Mr. Ozimek has no right to speak because of his past history.  Two things – this had absolutely nothing to do with what the issue was on the floor at the time AND whatever someone’s past, that does not abrogate their right to speak.  Once again, you wonder where these clowns got their law degrees.  But it’s mostly just ugly.  How would Carocci like it if someone found unsavory details in his past life and shoved them in his face in public? Or about his wife? Or his kids?  It’s nobody’s business.

Demeaning the Disabled

Here’s an equally repulsive line of attack that we’ve now heard far too often from both Banonis and Carocci.  Banonis very helpfully provided us with the information at the April 3 meeting that 10.1% of LST’s population is disabled.  That comes to over 1,100 residents.  Based on the ongoing attacks on Ms. deLeon who is also disabled, I wonder how welcome those 1,100+ Township residents feel, being belittled and demeaned and treated as second-class citizens?  Don’t believe that’s what they do?  Here are examples:

“He [Carocci] means Priscilla is the poster child of politicians why we need term limits. . .she’s been paid tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and put it in her pocket.  This is her job.  She doesn’t work.  She’s been on disability and Workers Comp for 20, 25 years?… Living off the, is it a private Workers Comp or is it the taxpayer dollar. She’s been doing that for about 20, 25 years…disability that allows her to spend all her time at the Township and get money, but she’s the poster child… Priscilla might have to get a real job, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how long her disability runs for. She has to pay taxes from her real job.” [April 3 minutes, p. 19, lines 7-23].

Carocci: “Priscilla’s been on disability for 40 years.” [5/1 livestream timemark 2:10].

Carocci: “People who don’t have to work don’t know this like Priscilla…she doesn’t grasp that. She sits around for 40 years collecting disability. She’s never been in a work environment” [5/1 livestream timemark 3:55ff]. DeLeon “I would just like the record to reflect that I worked as a radiologic technician for over 20 years in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley area. I just want the record to reflect that I did that.’’  So, Carocci, lie much?

Carocci: “She needs a handicapped placard.” [5/1 livestream].

There’s plenty more if you want to go watch the livestreams from the last 3 meetings.  The slurs are all in the same vein. And just to be accurate, Ms. deLeon is NOT on disability. As soon as an American citizen passes the full retirement age, whatever disability they may have been on morphs into Social Security, just like we all get. And which is it, Carocci? 20 years? 25 years? 40 years? Would you want this guy as your lawyer?

So, if you’re an LST resident with a disability, or you have someone in your family with a disability, what do you think the odds are that your needs will be heard, let alone met, by these two meatheads?   Or are you unworthy of Township consideration because you’re disabled?  Are these the kinds of people you want responsible for your needs as residents?

This is what is called bigotry and discrimination.

Physical Intimidation

Each of the Councilmembers has an assigned place at the dais.  At the May 1 meeting, Carocci, whose place is on the left end facing the dais, suddenly gets up and moves himself in between Ms. Opthof-Cordaro and Ms. Gorman.  There doesn’t seem to be any practical purpose for this, unless of course, with his bulk, he is attempting to intimidate those two women.  If not, why doesn’t he stay in his seat?  You can watch the manuever at timemark 55:00 of the 5/1 livestream.

At the 4/17 meeting, there’s an even uglier manuever that he pulls.  Ms. Ray is conducting the meeting in Ms. deLeon’s absence.  There’s a lot of carrying on about trying to get her to use the gavel.  You can see Carocci get up from his chair and make a lunge for the gavel which is to Ms. Ray’s right.  Luckily, Ms. Ray sees him coming and retains possession of the gavel.  But that sure looks like a deliberate intimidation tactic on the part of Carocci.  You can see it here. [4/17 livestream timemark 37:59]

Enough for Now

It’s exhausting dragging through this muck.  There’s plenty more that could be considered:  

Banonis’ ethics filing against Goudsouzian which he read all the way through at the end of the May 1 meeting that ran six and a half hours. Of course, no one’s seen it, but he claims he filed it.  Most of the complaint seemed completely manufactured.

–Resident Dave Boulin’s misconception that we need to hear him comment on close to every single agenda item, often off-topic, or his equally wrong belief that he’s the only one with the right answer to things.  Sadly, he’s not.  It’s also kind of sad to watch an elderly gentleman seem to lose the ability to convey a coherent line of thought while he’s eating up everyone’s time.

–The constant bickering and squabbling in front of guests at the meetings like the representatives of the Chamber of Commerce or the Fire Company.  Or in front of residents just seeking variances for their building projects.  It’s completely disrespectful.  Of particular embarrassment is watching Banonis cross-examine the leaders of the Fire Company in a tone that implies they’re trying to pull a fast one on the Township when they present their annual report.  And then he turns around and says how much he respects them.  Then treat them as equals, not as supplicants or pickpockets.  Fire safety is one of the responsibilities for the Council to provide.  You need partners, not servants.  Get over yourself.

–And one more thing while we’re talking about the Fire Company.  The Chief, I believe it was, said that the meetings with the Council liaisons are not public meetings.  And there are only two Council members there maximum so it’s not even a quorum.  And Banonis berates them and the Council liaisons for not reporting on the meetings even as the Chief explained that much of what is discussed should not be public knowledge.  And then Banonis asks what happened with the Fire Company Taj Mahal that was proposed last year.  Nothing. Good.  Because the public never was informed of those meetings.  They were not open to residents to attend. There was no public input.   And we knew nothing of the multi-million-dollar firehouse production that we were going to be expected to pay for until the final report was unveiled.  Talk about lack of transparency. Now that’s really ugly.

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