LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. - Lower Saucon Township Council on Wednesday night debated a planned Republican rally but had no grounds to vote on whether a St. Louis couple could address a crowd at the event in Town Hall Park.
The Northampton County Republican Committee will gather at the park from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who made national headlines after they were photographed holding weapons as protesters gathered outside their home, will discuss Second Amendment Rights and self-defense.
“I advised the township management that the township should treat this request as it would treat any other request,” such as rentals for weddings and parties, Solicitor Lincoln Treadwell said.
Lower Saucon does not have the authority to ask what will be said or to block an event based on what might happen, he said.
Township residents raised concerns during the virtual meeting about guns at the park, the transmission of the coronavirus and extra costs for police, along with Lower Saucon’s image.
“Please don’t bring this hate to our community,” Jeanette Peterson said.
Victoria Opthof warned against people brandishing weapons and spreading COVID-19.
Treadwell said that attempts to keep weapons out of township parks have failed.
“Pennsylvania is an open-carry state,” he explained. “The only thing you can’t do with a firearm in a township park is carry it concealed on your person without a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
“I could openly walk into the park tomorrow with a rifle in my hand.”
Resident Andrea Wittchen pointed out that the township, not the county Republicans, will have to pay for extra police coverage.
Jason Banonis, a Republican council member, said that the McCloskeys have as much right to speak as any other Americans.
“I’m not so sure here what is so toxic about the McCloskeys,” he said. “They simply stood their ground in defense of their home and person.”
And trying to bar the Northampton County Republicans from renting the pavilion, he said, could lead to litigation.
The McCloskeys were charged with unlawful use of a weapon. No shots were fired.
Last week, Palmer Township rejected the GOP group’s request to hold the event, citing Gov. Tom Wolf's coronavirus-related limit on more than 250 people at gatherings. Some of Wolf’s emergency orders were struck down by a federal court on Monday. The administration plans an appeal.
Democrats Priscilla deLeon and Kristen Stauffer both expressed reservations about the event. DeLeon said that it was more of a public rally than a private gathering.
The only vote council made on the issue was to allow amplified audio at the meeting. That passed 5-0, with Banonis, deLeon, Stauffer, Thomas Carocci and Council President Sandra Yerger all in favor.
“I can’t see any legal reason to not vote yes,” Stauffer said.
“We will take the proper precautions tomorrow,” Police Chief Thomas Barndt said. Officers will not be at the event, but will be stationed nearby.
Township Manager Leslie Huhn said that the Northampton County Republican Committee will be advised of social-distancing guidelines.
In other business, council took no action on variances for John and Susan Blair’s proposed office development for 3725 Old Philadelphia Pike, allowing the project to proceed.
Council also commended Huhn for being named Lehigh Valley Township Manager of the Year by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The award, Huhn said, recognizes the entire township.