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The Library Prion Disease Moves South

First and foremost, I have a request to make.  If you care about the future of the Hellertown Area Library and if you are opposed to Lower Saucon Township joining up with the Southern Lehigh Public Library, I urge you to attend this Tuesday’s meeting of the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board (June 20 at 6:30 PM) at the Library, 3200 Preston Lane, Center Valley.  There has been much happening since the last SLPL Board meeting on April 18 and none of it is good.

If you cannot attend, please send an email to Board Secretary Kathleen Stadler Parsons (kparsons@solehipl.org) by noon on Tuesday expressing your opposition to Lower Saucon Township joining with SLPL so that it can be counted in time for the meeting.

Brief Review of Where We Are          

Ever since the LST Council was infected with the insanity that led them to take actions that caused a break with the Hellertown Area Library back in January 2022, four of the five members (Mrs. DeLeon excepted) have been fixated on the desire to join up with Southern Lehigh Public Library.  It is a ludicrous idea for at least the following reasons (there are many more):

  • Our children go to the Saucon Valley School District, not the Southern Lehigh School District (SLSD).  Our students do not have projects with students at SLSD and they do not participate in social or academic activities with SLSD.  They do, however, have projects with students from Hellertown who are also enrolled in the Saucon Valley School District and share with them social and academic activities.  HAL provides resources and study space for all those students.
  • Lower Saucon Township and HAL are both in Northampton County.  SLPL is in Lehigh County.
  • HAL is located conveniently in almost the center of the combined Lower Saucon-Hellertown area, including within walking distance of most of the public schools.  SLPL is located completely outside the Lower Saucon area, only somewhat accessible from the southwestern corner of the Township and not accessible by safe walking from the Saucon Valley schools. 
  • The SLPL Board has repeatedly indicated to the LST Council that they are not welcoming to the idea of accepting LST as another funder of the Library, especially because it would be a greater financial burden on a library that is already struggling with insufficient support from its current funders.
  • The SLPL Board has repeatedly indicated to the LST Council that they do not have the space or the staff sufficient to serve the LST residents since they are already overbooked for almost all of their programs. 

I could go on but I know that most of my readers know what the problems are as well as I do.

The April SLPL Board Meeting

On April 18, the SLPL Board met to discuss a proposal that had been presented by LST Council for a 10-year agreement that would make LST a funder of SLPL in exchange for library services.  A significant number of LST residents attended to voice their opposition to this agreement especially since their number and commitment had been belittled by the LST Solicitor in communication with the SLPL Board.  There were also a large number of emails that had expressed that same opposition that were reported had been sent to the Board prior to the meeting.

Following extensive discussion, the Board chose not to accept the LST proposal which had an expiration date of May 5.  With no subsequent Board meetings scheduled before that date, this meant the proposal was basically deemed to be rejected as stated by the LST Solicitor.  Instead, the SLPL Board requested that their funding municipalities meet to address the problems inherent in such an agreement, of which there were many, not least of them being a demand by LST of SLPL to “provide full ‘home’ library services, equal to the services provided to the residents of the current financial partners, to LST residents commencing on June 1, 2023.”  That alone was an impossibility along with other parts of the proposal, causing several SLPL Board members to wonder whether LST was even serious in the proposition or were they just completely unaware of the applicable Office of Commonwealth Libraries procedures and rules.

Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors’ Response

Upper Saucon Township’s Board of Supervisors was not happy with that decision by the SLPL Board.  As we have watched unfold over the last year or so, the UST Board has been strong-arming the Library to accept a number of different LST proposals.  Their response at their May 8 supervisors’ meeting was to begin to take steps to exert iron-fisted control over the Library Board.  They removed the President of the Board, whose term had expired in December 2022, but who was eligible for another term.  In a move of consummate arrogance, they did not even bother to inform her of that action.  She found out via social media.  What a low-class maneuver.

They then voted to add two new members to the Library Board – the Township Manager, Tom Beil, and his subordinate Patrick Leonard, Director of General Services, both township employees.  That alone indicates the expectation of a certain amount of subservience. In addition, Beil is not even a resident of Upper Saucon Township.  Instead he resides in Lower Macungie Township and serves as the President of their Planning Commission.  One has to wonder just how representative he is of the needs and desires of the residents of Upper Saucon Township.  And could the Council not find one single UST resident to fill that space?  I’ll bet they could, but I bet that person wouldn’t be beholden to the Council for his job.

Following the May 8 council meeting, the UST Council sent what is one of the ugliest, nastiest letters I’ve ever seen to the Board of SLPL on May 9 with a copy to the Lower Saucon Township Council.  The arrogance and bullying are breathtaking.  In that, they show that they are clearly taking lessons from their LST Council brethren.  In addition, they found it appropriate to impugn the motives and actions of the Board with absolutely no facts to back it up.  They learned that one from the LST Solicitor as they claimed “it is clear that Board members have prioritized local politics over the interests of the Library’s members and patrons.”  These words were aimed at the volunteer Board members who have, in some cases, served for many years in service to the Library, keeping it running despite the lack of suitable funding from UST and the other municipalities.

The letter then goes into a long and tedious recitation of the entire history of the relationship between the Township and the Library, all of it filtered through the lens of “you wouldn’t be here without us” and “we pay the bills.”  There seems to be some lack of understanding that the Library was created because that was what the citizens of Upper Saucon Township and the other two funding municipalities wanted.  I don’t know where the School District played into this, but obviously they were willing to be involved.  No one wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll create a library and see who I can get to fund it.”  Perhaps they need to go back and read their original founding documents.  The thinking is ludicrous.

They then go on to claim “[c]ommon sense indicates that the Library would benefit from the LST proposal.” Common sense?  Is that how you determine if something is financially sound?  How about an actual cost analysis, like the Library Board did (UST’s Exhibit D)?  Oh, the Supervisors didn’t like that because it indicated that the addition of the LST residents would increase expenditures overall by $158,041 in 2023.   “The Supervisors lack confidence in the veracity of this estimate.”  Okay, then where is the Supervisors’ cost analysis?  And where are the notes that provide back-up to their analysis, like the notes that the Board provided?  “The Supervisors disagree that the provision of services to the approximate 11,000 residents of LST would prompt such a large increase in personnel expenses.”  Really?  Where’s your justification for that or did you just pull those numbers out of thin air, as you accuse the Board of doing?  Do you understand that the State has a formula that a library is required to adhere to in order to determine how much staff is necessary to serve their patrons?  Did you bother to figure out those numbers like the Board did?  Then show your work before you start throwing around phrases like “the potential illegitimacy of the Cost Estimate.”

The Supervisors then accuse the Board of not negotiating with LST in good faith.  Have they watched how the LST Council has behaved since at least January 19, 2022?  Where have they seen any good faith behavior on the part of that Council?  Talk to your counterparts in Hellertown about that.  Or the Office of Commonwealth Libraries that the LST Council was so eager to sue.  In fact, those of us on the outside have watched as the SLPL Board has devoted hours and hours of work in trying to understand what LST is demanding, much of which is not legally possible, and in trying to communicate with a Township Council that won’t even send one elected representative to talk with the Library Board about their aims and goals.  At SLPL Board meetings we have watched as meetings dragged on and on just in order to find the time to work on the appropriate work of the Library after wasting inordinate amounts of time on the laughable proposals presented by LST.

Perhaps most insulting is the statement that “the Board’s failure to act in the best interest of the Library is evidenced by the fact that when faced with a decision to accept a one million-dollar contribution from LST, it failed to make the responsible financial decision to accept the offer…”. That’s just a flat-out distortion (or as I was taught to call it – a lie).  LST did not offer a “one million-dollar contribution.”  What it asked for was an agreement that would pay for library services for 10 years in addition to a $250,000 contribution.  The definition of a contribution is money that is given with no expectation of receiving anything in return.  LST expects a hell of a lot in return including a penalty clause that would cost the Library as much as $75,000/year if and when they discover the real nature of the people they’ve gotten in bed with and want to get out.  It doesn’t “def[y] logic that the Board would not accept such a contribution.”  It defies logic that a Board of Supervisors is so dim-witted (or perhaps so driven by petty politics) that it wouldn’t demand their own financial accounting of the pluses and minuses if they did not believe the Library’s work.  Of course they’d first have to understand that they are not getting a million dollar contribution but a $250,000 contribution and the dramatically increased operating costs associated with such an agreement.  Perhaps they need a dictionary. Or an accountant.

Subsequently in the letter, they informed the Library that Lower Milford Township and Coopersburg would no longer have Board members with voting rights on library matters because the two municipalities didn’t each contribute at least 15% of the budget. Their members would be ex officio only.  They based this on a portion of the ByLaws which has apparently not been enforced in many years.  But all of a sudden, they’re happy to leave their funding partners out in the cold.  

Their final step was to permit the Southern Lehigh School Board to appoint a second representative to the Library Board.  The school board chose a member who is extremely right wing and in support of Upper Saucon Township’s actions.

Where Does All This Stand?

In a nutshell:

As of last year the SLPL Board had 7 members, all voting:  4 from Upper Saucon, 1 from the school board, 1 from Lower Milford and 1 from Coopersburg.

As they go into Tuesday night’s meeting, there are 9 members of which only 7 can vote.  The breakdown:  5 from Upper Saucon – voting, 2 from the school board – voting, 1 from Lower Milford – non-voting, 1 from Coopersburg – non-voting.

It looks as if UST Supervisors have bought themselves 4 likely votes to accept the LST proposal, as opposed to 3 likely to vote against and 2 who now can’t vote.  And the second item on Tuesday’s agenda under Old Business is “LST partnership discussion.”

Those 3 new Library Board members have not seen the depth of resistance that LST residents have to this proposal.  It’s important that they see that, live and in person.  That’s why I’m asking you to come to the meeting on Tuesday at 6:30 if at all possible and help us fill the room.  Like the April meeting, it will be held in the Library’s Board room at 3200 Preston Lane. And there is a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting where you can speak.  Be sure to sign in.

As I said at the top of the blog, if you can’t attend, would you please consider sending an email to the Board Secretary, Kathleen Stadler Parsons, at  kparsons@solehipl.org and express your deep opposition to any proposed agreement.  Please send it before noon on Tuesday, June 20 so it can be reported at the evening meeting.

We all know that if they force the acceptance of a proposal with LST that it will make it that much more difficult to reinstate our relationship with HAL.  In addition, my guess is that it will also result in even more legal expenses for LST since what they’re proposing does not comport with State library regulations.  As LST residents, we’ve already swallowed enough of that.

The Deeper Concern

Of deeper and more long-lasting concern is the fact that we are now watching two contiguous townships that seem to have lost all understanding of the concept of being public servants.  Those of us in Lower Saucon Township still, after a year and half, have been given NO valid, provable reasons for the split from HAL despite endless requests for explanation, despite endless public meetings where residents explained their opposition, and despite exorbitant legal costs, far more than the cost of a year’s membership in HAL would have been.  In Upper Saucon Township, we see a Board of Supervisors deliberately ignoring the financial dangers into which they are pushing their library and, if they don’t accept the numbers from the Library, refusing to do the work necessary to arrive at figures that they can accept.  I suspect they won’t be very far off from what they’re looking at now.  Are they afraid that’s what might turn out to be the case?

What happened to the concept that elected officials function in the best interests of their citizens?  Whose interests are these two governing bodies working in?  It’s clearly not their citizens. So who is it?  My guess – it’s one of the governing principles I used when I created Saucon Shenanigans.  Follow the money.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

See you Tuesday.

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