Community Government

New Law Could Impact Lower Saucon Council Appointment: Solicitor

Lower Saucon Township Council

A packed Lower Saucon Township council meeting room erupted in boos and jeers when council solicitor Linc Treadwell refused to tell the dozens of residents who turned out for a special meeting Friday night who told him of a new law that could potentially affect a recent council appointment.

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Lower Saucon Township Council

There was nearly a full house for a special meeting of Lower Saucon Township Council Friday evening. The purpose of the meeting was for council to discuss a law known as Rule 1908 that was not followed in the recent appointment of a resident to fill a vacant seat. Pictured, from left, are councilman Tom Carocci, councilwoman Priscilla deLeon, township manager Leslie Huhn, council president Sandra Yerger, township solicitor Linc Treadwell, council vice president Jason Banonis and councilwoman Kristen Stauffer.

Note: A correction has been made to this story. In an earlier published version the word “wrest” was incorrectly applied to a motion made by council vice president Jason Banonis. Banonis made a motion to have council solicitor Linc Treadwell tell the Court of Common Pleas that it would welcome a remand of the vacancy appointment process to council if the court so chooses. We apologize for any inconvenience the earlier word choice may have caused.

packed Lower Saucon Township council meeting room erupted in protestation when council solicitor Linc Treadwell refused to tell dozens of residents who turned out for a special meeting Friday evening who told him of a new law that could potentially affect a recent council appointment.

The special meeting was called because of the law–known as Rule 1908–and the impact Treadwell said it could have on the Feb. 19 appointment of Kristen Stauffer to council.

According to Rule 1908:

When a court of common pleas is filling a vacancy to an elected office under a statutory duty, the following procedures shall apply:

(a) The Court shall receive applications from any interested candidates for the position pursuant to a deadline established by the court.
(b) The names of all candidates under consideration and any written application materials submitted by any candidate are public information and shall be made available to any member of the public upon request. The following items included in any written application materials shall not be publicly released: the candidate’s Social Security number; the candidate’s home address, personal telephone number, and personal email address; and information pertaining to the name, home address, or date of birth of children under 17 years of age.
(c) Selection shall be by a vote of the commissioned judges of the court, including the president judge. In the event of a tie vote, the president judge will cast the deciding vote.
201 Pa. Code ยง 1908

The law took effect in early November, shortly before the seat Stauffer now fills–which was previously occupied by her husband, Ryan, an attorney–became open.

Following Ryan Stauffer’s resignation to accept employment with Northampton County Nov. 20, council had 30 days to fill the vacancy.

When council deadlocked twice and was unable to fill the seat with an appointment Dec. 18, the matter became one for the court to decide, under the township’s code of law.

Due to Ryan Stauffer’s employment as a law clerk with Northampton County, the entire county Court of Common Pleas judiciary recused itself from hearing the case, as Kristen Stauffer was one of four petitioners to the court seeking to fill the seat.

A Luzerne County judge, Joseph Augello, was brought in to review the petitions at a hearing held in early February. By that time, there were three petitioners, since the fourth–attorney Tom Carocci–had withdrawn his petition in early January.

Carocci was appointed to fill a different two-year township council seat in early January.

Along with Stauffer’s petition, Augello also reviewed petitions by former township councilwoman Donna Louder and businessman David Jauregui during the hearing.

Both Stauffer and Louder ran in the November election and lost.

On Feb. 19, Augello issued his decision, which was to appoint Stauffer to fill the seat.

That night, she was sworn in as a member of Lower Saucon Township Council by Northampton County judge Abe Kassis.

Under ordinary circumstances, that would have been the end of the story. However, sometime after Stauffer’s swearing in, it was brought to Treadwell’s attention that Rule 1908 existed and was already in effect at the time the court process to fill the seat began.

When asked by resident Julie Vautrin how he learned of Rule 1908’s existence, Treadwell said he couldn’t reveal that, since doing so “may violate” his “duty of confidentiality.”

He also defended his lack of awareness of the law when questioned by former township councilman George Gress about it.

“I was not aware of (Rule 1908), and I searched ‘vacancy,'” Treadwell said.

“It was your responsibility to ensure that everything was handled correctly for the township,” responded Gress.

“This rule has nothing to do with the township,” countered Treadwell.

What matters, Treadwell said, is the potential impact the law could have on township government moving forward.

“I am uncertain as we sit here tonight as to whether the decision the judge from Luzerne County made completely complies (with the law),” he told council, adding that “there is the potential that if the proper procedures were not followed in this case that it could impact the validity of the appointment of Mrs. Stauffer.”

Treadwell also recommended that council pass a motion recommending to Stauffer that she recuse herself from voting on and participating in council business until the legality of her appointment is confirmed, since doing so, he said, “could be a conflict of interest under the Ethics Law.”

Council approved that motion by a vote of 3-1, with Stauffer recusing herself from the vote–as well as subsequent votes–and councilwoman Priscilla deLeon voting against it.

Since the new law was not followed in this instance, council vice president Jason Banonis–who is an attorney–said the township could open itself up to litigation if it does not ask the court for clarification on Stauffer’s appointment.

Treadwell made the same assessment and recommended that council seek clarification from the court immediately.

Not everyone, however, agreed it is council’s place to seek clarification on Stauffer’s appointment.

“An impartial judge has ruled and the township I don’t think should be involved at this point,” said deLeon. “The residents who have a problem should be petitioning the court, not the council.”

“I agree with her that this is really none of council’s business,” said resident Andrea Wittchen. “It was the judge’s responsibility to get it right. If he got it wrong, it’s the judge’s responsibility to fix it. If someone wants to raise an issue with it as a private citizen, let them raise it with the judge.”

Northampton County councilwoman and township resident Lori Vargo Heffner prefaced a statement by Kristen Stauffer she agreed to read on her behalf by calling Friday night’s council proceedings “despicable.”

In her statement, Stauffer said “this council no longer has any jurisdiction in this matter.”

She also said she is concerned that Treadwell is being used by some council members as a “political tool,” and called a petition for reconsideration filed by Jauregui in light of Rule 1908 “disingenuous.”

Jauregui defended his decision to ask the court for reconsideration by saying that whether he asks for the seat or again or not, “does not change or negate the fact that the township is at risk.”

“Me going away doesn’t make the problem go away,” he said.

A township resident who spoke during a lengthy discussion regarding Rule 1908, attorney Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, said she, too, disagreed with township council’s decision to involve itself in the process of clarifying Rule 1908.

“As a taxpaying citizen of Lower Saucon Township, I urge you to keep yourselves impartial and stay ot of it,” she said. “And remember that all these people who just voted in an election will vote again. … It’s disgusting to see that people who have been newly elected or newly appointed decide to play politics with our taxpayer money.”

The question of whether or not Treadwell would receive additional compensation for his work on the clarification legal proceedings should not be a question, said Treadwell and Banonis, who contended that Treadwell would have to attend any future hearings at the township’s expense, regardless of what council decided to do.

Council is also a named respondent in the case, Treadwell noted.

“A petition has already been brought,” Opthof-Cordaro argued. “We don’t need to spend the taxpayer money on Linc spending a duplicate petition and a duplicate brief.”

Council, however, voted 3-1 for Treadwell to attend and participate in future proceedings and file a petition so the council has clarity on the matter, with deLeon voting “no” and Stauffer recusing herself.

A final motion made by Banonis was to request that Treadwell tell the court that council would welcome the opportunity to remand the decision-making process back from the judiciary and fill the vacancy itself. That motion failed when council deadlocked on it. DeLeon and council president Sandra Yerger voted against the motion, while Banonis and Carocci voted in favor of it.

When council deadlocked on nominating someone to fill the vacancy in December, its composition along party lines was 2-2, with both votes deadlocking 2-2 along party lines.

The composition of council is now one Democrat–deLeon–to three Republicans.

Stauffer is a Democrat, Jauregui is an independent and Louder is a Republican.

One resident Friday brought up the fact that the three Republican council members were absent from the Feb. 19 meeting at which Stauffer was sworn in to office; a meeting that could not be held (aside from the swearing in ceremony) due to lack of a quorum.

Banonis said he had car trouble that night, and held up a piece of paper at Friday’s meeting which he said proves that.

Yerger cited health reasons for her absence, and Carocci previously said he had a child care issue that night.

All three said they notified the township in advance that they would be absent from the meeting.

“I don’t think there’s any way anyone’s going to think (Feb. 19 was) anything but a boycott,” said township resident Laura Ray. “The whole thing we’re doing is political games. It’s sickening that it happens all over the country and now it’s happening here at the township.”

“Once you lose the trust and respect…you’ll probably never get it back,” she added. “So, it’ll be reflected in the votes the next time around.”

Ray also read a statement by township resident Christine Guro, in which Guro said, “I oppose what appears to be partisan obstruction (by council).”

Friday’s 2-2 vote against asking the court to hand the appointment process back to council occurred after former councilwoman and petitioner for the vacancy Donna Louder–who spoke several times throughout the evening, at times emotionally–said the matter should remain in the court’s hands.

“Give it to the courts and let it die there, with all due respect,” she said.

Although there is no timetable for council to receive clarification from the court on any potential impact Rule 1908 may have on Stauffer’s appointment, Treadwell said he believes the court will act on the request relatively soon.

The next Lower Saucon Township Council meeting will be held Wednesday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Lower Saucon Town Hall, 3700 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem. A draft meeting agenda can be found on the township’s website, under “Council.

The agenda makes note of the fact that public comment during Lower Saucon Township Council meetings is restricted to township residents only, who have three-minute time limit when speaking about non-agenda items.

The same disclaimer was included on Friday night’s meeting agenda, where it was criticized by resident Gordon Gress.

Yerger said the rule has been on the books in Lower Saucon Township for a long time, but admitted it has only been enforced selectively and particularly at times when there are many people who wish to comment on an issue, as was the case on Friday.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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