The state Fraternal Order of Police and the Delaware County Council filed  friend of the court briefs in support of the Chester Receiver in a case pending in the state Supreme Court.

The Receiver is seeking to strip local elected officials from their roles as heads of city departments and instead appoint what he believes are qualified individuals to run Chester. That would affirm a January decision by a Commonwealth Court judge.

The FOP legal brief brandishes harsh wording, blaming Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and city officials for the city’s dire financial straits. The county’s brief uses more measured language, saying it has a vested interest in Chester’s recovery.

“The recovery plan will be the only way the municipality will get back on its feet,” Delaware County said in its brief. “The only alternative to a successful Act 47 process is chaos. The Commonwealth cannot allow one of its cities to devolve into chaos.”

In her January ruling, Judge Ellen Ceisler blasted city officials for nepotism and self-dealing. She ordered them to step down and allow the Receiver to appoint qualified individuals to run the city’s departments.

“Unfortunately, the promise of a secure pension has been broken by the City of Chester,” the FOP brief said. “This matter involves, among other acts of malfeasance, the complete and utter failure of the city to comply with the statutory requirements relating to the financial solvency of defined benefit pensions for law enforcement officers such as those employed by the City of Chester and all law enforcement officers through the commonwealth.”

That has resulted in a $40 million deficit in the police pension plan, the filing stated. The deficit threatens the financial security of former and current police officers who are and have been employed by the city. The city’s conduct provides no realistic hope that “it will change its methods of operations and make the required MMO (minimum municipal obligation) payments.”

It also accuses the mayor of failing to make the payments with “full knowledge and intent.”

The county noted that other financially distressed cities, such as Harrisburg and Johnstown, have gone through the process with state control and come out of it with their problems resolved.

“This is a very important case, and it’s clear from the FOP’s and Delaware County’s filings that it’s not just the Receiver who recognizes that,” said Vijay Kapoor, chief of staff for Receiver Michael Doweary.

Last month Doweary said Chester’s government might have to be disincorporated or dissolved if it does not come out of insolvency by the end of the year. Former Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Doweary to help the cash-strapped municipality three years ago. But Doweary has claimed in court filings that city officials have thwarted him at every turn.

Frank Catania, a lawyer for the Chester Water Authority, said there is more to this situation than the court documents might suggest. Chester has been under state oversight for decades, said Catania. And instead of improving, the situation has gotten much worse.

“There’s a dispute as to how much of that (lack of retirement fund payments) is the city’s fault and how much of that is the state’s fault,” said Catania. “And neither filing addresses the issue of the state’s involvement or responsibility.”

“And I think it’s not fair to the city or the mayor to have him blamed for this when the city has been under Act 47 supervision for almost 30 years,” said Catania. “I mean, all of this happened when the state was supposedly overseeing (it),” he said. And about the county council’s filing, “It’s more politics than policy,” he said.

Council wants “regime change” in Chester, said Catania. “This is being done 13 days before the primary.”

“And I don’t read it as an expression of support for any particular policy,” said Catania. “I believe it to be a political act.”

Mayor Kirkland did not respond to requests for comment.

The state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the case on May 24.

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