A Lower Saucon council member Tuesday sharply criticized a resolution authorizing a lawyer and his firm to be the township’s special legal counsel that also retroactively authorized work performed by the firm on library service matters in 2022.
The township is embroiled in a dispute with Hellertown borough that began when council rejected a new library services agreement last January; a decision that led to the township’s removal from the Hellertown Area Library’s service area by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, which the township said it intends to fight in court.
Resolution #10-2023 (below) was approved by a 4-1 vote along with a number of other resolutions, with councilwoman Priscilla deLeon voting against it after voicing a number of objections to it.
WHEREAS, the Council of Lower Saucon Township appoints Michael McAuliffe Miller, Esq. and Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellot, LLC as the Township’s Special Projects/Labor Solicitor, for the year 2023; and
WHEREAS, any special projects and/or assignments will be assigned by the Township Manager, in consultation with the Township Solicitor, on an as-needed basis, and
WHEREAS, the fee to reimburse the services of the Special Projects/Labor Solicitor is $290.00 per hour.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, and it is hereby resolved by the Council of Lower Saucon Township, that the above listed fee is hereby established for the year on an as-needed basis for 2023, retroactive to January 1, 2023; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that any and all actions of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellot, LLC taken in 2022 with regard to library services in Lower Saucon Township, and all other associated issues, are hereby ratified, confirmed, and approved by the Council of Lower Saucon Township.
RESOLVED AND ENACTED this 3rd day of January, 2023.
DeLeon said previous resolutions passed by council included the words “as needed” and–until last year–also stipulated that prior consent of council was required.
“What happened to council?” she asked. “Aren’t they supposed to be answering to us?”
She said that prior yearly resolutions dating back to 2020 appointed just Miller as special counsel, in contrast with the new resolution which also appointed the entire law firm.
DeLeon seemed most upset with retroactively approving 2022 work related to library services “and all other associated issues” performed by the firm.
“At one of the last meetings, I asked (council solicitor) Linc (Treadwell), who’s unfortunately not here tonight, ‘Who authorized this firm to do library work?'” deLeon said. “Linc told me it was approved by resolution at the 2022 reorg meeting. That was not true, because I looked it up.”
Minutes for the Jan. 3, 2022 council reorganization meeting are available on the township’s website.
DeLeon called retroactively ratifying, confirming and approving actions regarding library services in the township taken by the firm last year “despicable.”
“I am very disappointed,” she said, calling it an attempt to “slide…in” payment for work being funded with taxpayer dollars. “In my opinion, you violated fiscal and ethical responsibilities and boundaries by giving authority away to the solicitor and manager to approve the spending of taxpayer dollars, and not council. Everything needs council approval.”
“The rewording of this Resolution 10-2023 and the removal of prior consent of council in 10-2022 is unprecedented in my time on council,” deLeon said, before trying to make a motion to change the wording of the resolution. Council president Jason Banonis stopped her because council already had a pending motion to approve the resolution that had been seconded.
“I would just direct back to the Jan. 19, 2022 council meeting minutes, which clearly explain the authority and authorization that was granted by this council,” he said.
Resident Laura Ray, who addressed council during the public comment period for agenda items, called Resolution #10-2023 “totally unacceptable.”
“This new resolution is basically giving permission to spend unspecified, unlimited amounts on special work–or projects–that will be going on, without going before council for review or approval,” she said. “So, absolutely no transparency.”
Referring to the retroactive approval contained with the resolution, Ray said it looked to her like permission to spend “funds in 2022 that were not properly authorized or approved” and “like misuse of taxpayer money.”
Resident Diane Hollowell questioned the expense that could come with the resolution’s approval, noting that council solicitor Treadwell is already paid $220 per hour.
“I can only assume that Mr. Treadwell is not experienced in special projects,” she said.
She then asked if it was true the township had racked up approximately “$63,000 in legal fees to deal with the mess (council) created with the Hellertown library,” adding that that number “doesn’t include the $50,000 (donated) to Southern Lehigh (Public Library).”
No one on council answered the question, which is customary during the public comment period, but last week deLeon posted information on her Priscilla deLeon, Councilwoman, Lower Saucon Township Council Facebook page indicating that from Jan. 1, 2021 through Nov. 30, 2022 the township spent $63,345.61 on “legal fees for library services.”
“It seems to me we are spending more to leave a library than actually having one to serve the community,” Hollowell told council.
The meeting agenda with attached documents is available via the township website.
A township resident, Mark Ozimek, recorded the meeting and uploaded the video to YouTube, where it can be viewed along with videos from a 5-hour meeting in December on his channel Mark’s Welding & Mech. Srvcs.
The next Lower Saucon Township Council meeting is scheduled to be held Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room at Lower Saucon Town Hall.
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