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Hooray for First Responders!

The March 6 LST Council meeting started off with one singular feature that I think we can all agree we hope is never repeated.  Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) addressed the Council to fill them in on details of what had happened with the 3-train derailment on the previous Saturday on the tracks along the Lehigh River at Riverside Drive.  Luckily the crash involving the three Norfolk Southern trains had not caused any injuries to train personnel nor had there been any significant spills of hazardous materials beyond some diesel fuel from the engines and some polypropylene pellets from one of the cars. 

Fire Chief Ty Johnson and Police Chief Tom Barndt both reported on the outstanding job done by all of the first responders in controlling the situation, an assessment with which NTSB Investigator Ruben Payan concurred.  Also singled out for praise was the Fire Auxiliary that provided food and drinks for all the first responders throughout the day.  It was nice to hear them given their due as well.

County Executive Lamont McClure had held a press conference early on the day of the accident to update residents and allay their fears of dangerous materials being in the train cars.  He was joined by Council President deLeon as well as Councilwomen Opthof-Cordaro and Ray.  It’s unknown why Councilmen Banonis and Carocci were not there.  But then, Carocci was once again absent from the Council meeting on March 6 with no explanation, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising when he doesn’t show up

[NOTE: There have been 7 Council meetings so far in 2024. Carocci has been absent without explanation for 3 of them.]

Vistas at Longridge Development

For a third Council meeting, residents from the development Vistas at Longridge were present to continue to report the difficulties they were having with their homes which included failed septic, ponding of water, electrical issues, HVAC issues, grading issues, etc. most of which they had presented at the two prior meetings.  The Township had indicated that it would look into possible action on grading plan reviews.  This very long and complicated discussion seemed to end up with the following conclusions:

  1. The residents said they would not be coming back again to the Township.
  2. The Council concluded that there didn’t need to be changes to the Grading Plan Reviews but that the requirements already in place needed to be enforced.
  3. Finally in this third meeting, after township staff looked into the various problems the residents reported, the Solicitor explained in response to the residents’ complaints that there were zoning violations that were the developer’s responsibility to remedy, that in fact, because the homeowners had taken possession of their homes, if the Township sent personnel out to look for zoning violations, the responsibility would in fact lie with the homeowners because they were now the owners.  He explained that the Township was trying not to take that route because if they did, the Township would have to cite the homeowners and they were trying to avoid that scenario.  Mr. Goudsouzian also explained that in most townships they would not have gone to three meetings to continue dealing with these problems because the difficulty lies between the developer and the homeowners.  However, the Council had attempted to see if there was any possible action that the Township could take that would have ameliorated the situation.  He regretted that there did not seem to be such a solution and that the homeowners’ path seemed to be litigation against the developer.  Banonis agreed with that explanation.

Changes to Solicitation Ordinance

Apparently someone had realized that the Township’s solicitation ordinance was not aligned with the Commonwealth’s solicitation ordinance and in order to prevent possibilities for litigation, the Township’s needed to be revised to match up with Pennsylvania’s.  This basically changed the hours of the day that soliciting is permitted.  FYI, the hours are now 9 AM to 7 PM from October 1 through March 31 and 9 AM to 8 PM from April 1 through September 30.  In addition, soliciting is now allowed on Sundays.  It had previously been forbidden in the Township on Sundays.

A couple more items of solicitation interest that do not represent changes:  you must have a permit to peddle AND if you don’t want people coming to your door peddling, you can register with the police department as a “no peddling” property and then solicitors may not come to your door.  That last one is a helpful piece of information.

Open-ended Discussions on a Variety of Topics

Here’s where we get into the time-wasting, show-boating by Banonis.  Items get added to the agenda to re-open past issues and Banonis uses it as an excuse to drone on and on about both relevant and irrelevant issues that does nothing except to let him smear the current Council majority, attempt to re-litigate resolved issues, and waste both time and money.  There were 3 such issues on this agenda.

  1.  A discussion of whether the $98,237.26 given to the Hellertown Area Library should be classified as a donation.
  2. A discussion about paying the bill for Solicitor Freed’s attendance at the 3 meetings he was present at before his resignation.
  3. A discussion about the letter to the IRS that the previous Council had authorized in an attempt to accuse St. Luke’s University Health Network of violating 501(c)(3) regulations when they sent their community a letter before the election explaining why they were opposed to the expansion of the dump.

Results

  1. There was no change made in the categorization of the payment to HAL despite long and dubious claims by Banonis.
  2. The bill from Solicitor Freed was approved for payment since he only charged the Township for the actual time that he spent in the 3 meetings.  So, no change despite Banonis’ attempt to stiff Solicitor Freed’s firm for the time Mr. Freed had spent. We know Mr. Freed was there because we all saw him.
  3. The Council voted 3-1 to send letters to both the IRS Dallas office and the Philadelphia Field Office to which the previous letter had been sent, indicating that the Township was withdrawing the letter and did not wish to pursue the allegations in it.  This item did result in a change of Council action despite Banonis’ long and tedious arguments about his understanding of 501(c)(3) regulations and why St. Luke’s violated them, which proved that he has a significantly deficient understanding of 501(c)(3) regulations.  It was, however, refreshing to hear Attorney Joe Bubba be permitted to speak on the subject on behalf of the Health Network.  After the way he was treated by the previous Council, this hopefully made up from some of that bad behavior.

Losing Our Township Manager

The other unfortunate major agenda item was the resignation of Township Manager Mark Hudson.  He had provided a letter of resignation effective March 28.  The comments by both the Council and the public showed in just how high regard Mr. Hudson has been held even for the brief time that he has served as Township Manager.  Many speakers expressed regret at his leaving, gratitude for the good job he has done while here, and best wishes for success in his new position.  He will clearly be missed.

The concomitant item with the resignation was discussion on hiring a firm to conduct a search for a new township manager.  The recommendation was made to hire Keystone Management Solutions to assist with the hiring process.  The cost will be $10,500.  A detailed proposal of the services to be provided was part of the supporting documentation with the agenda.  I don’t recall that the public was offered anywhere near that kind of detailed information upon the hiring of either the previous Interim Manager or of Mr. Hudson.  It’s nice to get a look at what we’re purchasing.

Banonis of course opposed the hiring of a search firm.  Perhaps he wanted to do it himself.

Progress on Meadows Road Bridge

In one piece of good news, Mr. Hudson reported that PennDOT had accepted a bid for $3,082,000 for replacement of the Meadows Road Bridge with work to begin in late May/June.  Completion is expected in September 2025.

The Concept of a Timed Agenda

We have all now suffered through 6 Council meetings since the reorganization that have been exceedingly and unnecessarily long, primarily because of the hijacking of various agenda items by Banonis and Carocci.  Perhaps the Council should consider a revision to its meeting regulations. 

Timed agendas are often helpful for meetings where the elected members, whether collegial or confrontative, are exceptionally prolix.  This has been particularly problematic when agenda items are described as “discussion and possible action” with no defined action for discussion.  Unless there is some attachment that indicates the  Council’s direction, there is no way of knowing what will be discussed.  Here are a few ways of handling it more effectively:

  1.  For each agenda item, provide the motion or resolution that will be discussed, thereby focusing comment on a specific course of action rather than just meaningless rambling, often designed to be disruptive and disrespectful.
  2. For each agenda item, attach a total number of minutes for that item; perhaps, 15 minutes or 20 minutes.  The drawback to this is that with the change in the public comment policy, it’s impossible to know how many audience members will want to comment.  Although at least with the audience members, there is a time limit of 5 minutes per person.
  3. For each agenda item, specify a total number of minutes that the elected officials have to comment on the agenda item.  The councilperson requesting to have the item added to the agenda could identify how long he/she thinks will be needed for the presentation by the councilperson and comment by the other councilpeople.  Audience comment would then be subject to the 5-minute-per-person limit.
  4. Since it’s my understanding that the current practice for adding an agenda item is that any councilperson may request something be added to the agenda, identify by name who added the item to the agenda and determine a time limit for that person’s comment period.  Using that system, I would strongly suggest that the time limit for additional council comments also be limited – perhaps using the 5 minute limit to which the public is constrained.

The LST COUNCIL WASTE-O-METER

As I mentioned in the last Saucon Shenanigan post, all of this useless spewing costs not only time but also money.  Using budget figures and accounting only for personnel costs (i.e. not facilities expenses), LST Council meetings cost about $9/minute to conduct.  As an example, the February 7 Council meeting that dragged on until 2:39 AM cost $4,671, not including the cost of the stenographer for the cell tower hearing.

At the last Council meeting on March 6, I brought a stopwatch and timed all of the portions of the meeting where Banonis was off-subject or redundant or dishing misinformation, wasting time.  It came to 39 minutes, or a cost of $351.  

Herewith the LST Council Waste-O-Meter, where I’ll be incrementing the amount of tax dollars being wasted at each meeting so you, the public, can see how your tax money is being used.  Because as Banonis repeatedly tells us, it’s our money and he shouldn’t have it to waste.


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