Zoning board chairman shown the door in Lower Macungie
Larry Schneider, who served six-and-a-half years on the zoning hearing board in Lower Macungie Twp., Lehigh Co.,, was not reappointed to the board by township commissioners Thursday night.
Knowing he wasn’t being reappointed, Schneider stood to confront the five commissioners.
“To say I’m shocked and very disappointed is a significant understatement,” he told them.
Schneider accused commissioners, except James Lancsek, of sending “a powerful message” to altruistic volunteers in the township: “We don’t want you to be in a position of power or responsibility – especially when you don’t think and function the way we want you to. And, God forbid, don’t ever challenge or disagree with us.
“What exactly was my major transgression? Did I challenge the board too much on matters that relate to honesty and integrity and governance?”
Schneider said he was not being a sore loser about not being reappointed, but accused four of the commissioners of “petty, polarizing behavior, badgering, weak excuses for full transparency, aggressive conflict of interest behavior and talking down” to residents that address them.
During the meeting, none of the commissioners explained why they opposed reappointing Schneider. But after it ended, President Ron Eichenberg cited “Larry’s polarizing nature, which was exhibited by his presentation this evening. That was a perfect exhibit of what we have heard from other people.” Eichenberg said those people included applicants and lawyers who have appeared before the zoning hearing board.
Schneider was chairman of the zoning hearing board for two years until his term ended Dec. 31.
No commissioners attempted to make a motion to reappoint Schneider, but Lancsek said he was disappointed that there wasn’t more support among his colleagues to do so.
Lancsek, formerly the township’s zoning officer, said he worked closely with Schneider and he has done “a fantastic job.” Lancsek praised him as “one of the more aggressive and better members we’ve had on that board in many, many years. He’s always done his homework. He’s very informed. And he ran a damn good meeting.”
When he spoke, Schneider endorsed two candidates for commissioners – Brian Higgins and Ron Beitler -- “who will help us take back our township.”
Commissioner Roger C. Reis immediately objected to Schneider “politicizing” and making a campaign speech. “That’s out of order, Larry.”
Several people spoke on Schneider’s behalf.
Higgins, who serves on the zoning hearing board and participated in interviewing candidates for the vacancy, praised Schneider’s experience on the board. He said nothing negative done by Schneider “to shine a poor light on the zoning hearing board” was mentioned during interviews and deliberations. He said Schneider has always been professional and given township residents the utmost respect.
William Royer, vice chair of the zoning hearing board, said Schneider made many difficult decisions “and not one time was his decision questioned as being unfair by any of the participants.” Royer said commissioners should reappoint Schneider “for the good of the township.”
Resident Jane Fretz claimed the majority of commissioners have “a flagrant disregard for what is fair and what is just. It seems big egos are easily pricked. You exhibit disdain for anyone who dares to question your actions or disagree with you. You deny capable committed citizens like Larry Schneider the opportunity to serve their township in volunteer positions because they dare to challenge some of what you say and do. Your vindictiveness is not palatable.”
Commissioner Ryan Conrad was upset by the personal attacks on the commissioners and “politicizing” the issue. He said it was a mistake for people in the audience to assume how commissioners would act by attacking them, rather than saying more about Schneider’s qualifications. He said they might have changed some of their minds by doing that.
Conrad said in 2009 he and the rest of the board of commissioners supported reappointing Schneider to the zoning hearing board. “That’s welcoming disagreement. This is a democracy, not an oligarchy. If that were the case, we wouldn’t let you speak.”
Eichenberg said: “Larry has served our township well. We appreciate the service of all our volunteers. However, to criticize this board for a decision you may not like I really find appalling….”
Eichenberg continued: “Just as that laughter was appalling. No one on this board criticized or laughed at any of your comments. We listened to them with respect.”
Resident Joe Pugliese stood to say he was offended because most residents who addressed commissioners did focus on Schneider’s “service to this community.
There may have been one or two speakers who politicized the issue, but don’t put us all in the same boat, please. By making a poor decision, you are going to politicize this. Put your personal feelings aside and make a decision on behalf of the township.”
But Reis said divisiveness, anger and malice were not coming from the commissioners. “We’re listening to everybody. We’re not laughing at you.”
Resident Art Imdorf reminded commissioners that Schneider was a co-founder of Citizens for Change, which led the fight to make Lower Macungie a first class township. “That’s the reason you gentlemen are up there now,” he said.
But resident Julie McDonell said many people dropped out of Citizens for Change because “if it’s not Larry’s way it’s not the right way.” She said she was disappointed when he proudly told her “what a political machine he had in the Citizens for Change group.”
Scott Aquila was appointed as an alternate member of the zoning hearing board by a 3-2 vote. Thomas Sesta, now an alternate, will move up to a “full-time” position on the board.
Lancsek and Conrad voted no on Aquila’s appointment. Conrad explained his vote by saying he did not think it was appropriate to move Sesta to a full-time position. “I’m not sure he expressed an interest the way he should have,” said Conrad, who added Sesta was not part of the interview process.
But Commissioner Douglas Brown said: “The one we chose was eminently qualified and felt to be the best candidate for the position.”
During the meeting, George Doughty was appointed to the township planning commission, but it also was not unanimous.
Reis said he had a problem with Doughty. Elaborating, he said Lehigh Valley International Airport is having financial problems that were incurred when Doughty was the airport’s executive director, problems “based on some decisions he made. I can’t support him being on our planning commission.”
Eichenberg said he initially had similar concerns, but those concerns were allayed during the interview process. He said Doughty worked as an assistant planning director in a municipality in Maryland for a number of years. He cited Doughty’s expertise and “broad goal perspective.”
Brown, Eichenberg and Conrad voted for Doughty. Reis and Lancsek voted against appointing him.
Irvin Keister, current chairman of the planning commission, unanimously was reappointed to another term.
Lancsek also was a candidate to serve on the planning commission, but withdrew his name from consideration when he learned Keister was interested in staying on the commission. Commissioners are allowed to also serve on the planning commission.
Other township appointments:
• Scott Forbes, current chairman of the public safety commission, was reappointed. Peter Pavlovic, who served on that commission’s ad hoc committee, also was appointed to the commission. Michael Datillio was appointed to the ad hoc committee.
• Wilet Thomas was reappointed to the building code board of appeals.
• Christopher Sacchi and Scott Alderfer were reappointed to the environmental advisory council. Alderfer was reappointed chair of that council.
• Blake Marles, former township solicitor, was reappointed to the historical commission.
• Julie McDonell was appointed to the vacancy board.
At the beginning of the meeting, Brent McNabb was honored for 36 years of service to the Lower Macungie Fire Department. He has served as deputy chief, president, captain, lieutenant and, for the last 16 years, as assistant fire chief. He is now becoming an assistant fire marshal in the department.
Fire inspector Ben Galiardo also was honored for 35 years of service to the fire department. Galiardo is former fire chief.
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