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Rongione’s Appointment to County Job Sparks Patronage Complaints

The Delaware County Council appointed two former Upper Darby officials to plum positions at its last meeting.

Vince Rongione, who was the township’s chief administrator, was appointed as county register of wills, and its former mayor, Barbarann Keffer, was appointed to the board of Delcora. Also appointed to Delcora’s board were former county solicitor William Martin and Kenneth Schuster, the City of Chester solicitor.

Former Upper Darby Council President Brian Burke said Rongione and Keffer’s appointments are “political patronage.”

“It’s a political patronage job,” said Burke, about Rongione’s appointment to the $47,000 a year opening for register of wills. The previous register, Rachel Ezzell Berry, was elected to the Common Pleas Court bench in November.

Keffer did not seek re-election as mayor in the wake of a DUI arrest.

“I thought the Democrats wanted to take over the county because of the Republicans’ did it (patronage),” said Jeff Jones, an Upper Darby resident and Republican who ran for county council. “But there was never patronage like this. It seems to me the Democrats are doing exactly what they accused the Republicans of doing.”

Rongione had “shown he was inept at his job,” said Jones. “Hopefully, he’s not inept as register of wills.”

Rongione said he stepped down for family reasons. However, his tenure at the Upper Darby helm was marked by controversy. In February 2022, the township treasurer told the township council, alleging that the balance of some bank accounts were lower than they should have been. At issue was $41 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

A bipartisan group of six council members tried to fire Rongione. Rongione, a lawyer, then sued Upper Darby.

In June 2022, an auditor found no problems with the township’s handling of ARPA funds, but a group on the council continued to press for more information, saying the auditor did not have access to all the township’s accounts. A second audit also found no money was missing. In the end, the money was not gone but comingled with other accounts, the treasurer said.

Burke, who switched parties and ran for mayor as a Republican, also accused Keffer of holding up funds for various projects by refusing to sign off on the council’s legislation.

“I’ve always been passionate about public service,” said Rongione. “And (being a register of wills) is a great way to showcase how the government can help people through important transitional moments in their lives. We also do marriage licenses, in addition to estate and will functions. So it’s really a great opportunity to help folks navigate these important transitional moments.”

As for his critics, Rongione said, “There’s always going to be partisan political nonsense.”

“I went through a thorough vetting process in order to obtain the position, and I’m tremendously grateful for the vote of confidence and I look forward to the opportunity to prove myself in a less contentious environment to anyone who might be skeptical.”

Rongione is a graduate of Villanova University and Villanova law school. He also holds a certificate in mediation.

Council Chair Monica Taylor, Ph., said they interviewed all the candidates separately, and she was very impressed with Rongione.

“I am very supportive of his application,” said Taylor. “He seemed to have the best answers and the managerial experience. I’m looking forward to having him serve as the register of wills, and hopefully, he’ll run for (the office) in 2025.”.

But Terry Tracy, chair of the Upper Darby Republican Committee, disagrees with that assessment.

“Vince Rongione’s appointment to county-wide office is a classic example of failing up,” said Tracy. “The only way it is possible that he was the most qualified candidate for this role is if he was literally the only candidate county council considered, and even that’s being overly generous. Given his unfortunate resume…every dime he is paid in this job should be considered by Delaware County taxpayers, to borrow a phrase coined by Delco Democrats, a ‘corruption tax.’”

Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said she would not support Schuster’s appointment because she backed another qualified person and was concerned about a conflict since he is the Chester solicitor.

“Whether it’s legal or perceived, it’s not clean,” said Schaefer, who noted that Martin had similar skills as an experienced attorney.

Adrienne Marofsky sent this response to a question regarding political patronage, “As with all hiring and appointments by the County, these appointments were made on the basis of appropriate experience and suitability for the position following careful consideration by Council.”

Lawyer Frank Catania, who used to represent Delcora, said about the new appointments, “Obviously, they’re people that Delaware County Council has a lot of confidence in.”

Delcora board members are compensated. However, a spokeswoman for Delcora did not respond when asked how much board members are paid.

Call Me Mayor, Maybe? Upper Darby Officials Battle Over Interim Mayor

The situation in Upper Darby is getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland might say.

Even though Mayor Barbarann Keffer is in a rehab facility after being arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, township solicitor Sean Kilkenny has issued an opinion that she is not, in fact, absent.

“In accordance with Section 803 (F) of the Home Rule Charter, Sean Kilkenny, in his capacity as the Township Legal Officer, has determined that the mayor is not absent as is defined by the Home Rule Charter. Therefore, an acting mayor is not needed,” Upper Darby Communications Associate Haely Quillen-Knox said in response to Delaware Valley Journal’s queries.

A few hours later on Monday, Council President Brian Burke sent a press release declaring himself interim mayor during Keffer’s absence.

“I encourage Mayor Keffer to prioritize her health and I truly wish her the best as her recovery process moves forward,” said Burke. “I want to be clear that I am stepping in to fulfill her duties on a temporary, interim basis until such time as Mayor Keffer returns from her absence and is able to perform all of the duties as outlined by the township charter.”

Burke claims that despite Kilkenny’s assertion, there is currently no executive in place overseeing the operations of the township who was either elected by residents or was confirmed by Council per the township’s Home Rule Charter. Section 405A of the charter provides for the council president to serve as interim mayor in the event of the mayor’s absence.

“There are specific duties, per the township charter, that must be carried out either by the mayor or the chief administrative officer – who must have been nominated by the mayor and confirmed by township council,” said Burke. “In the absence of both the mayor and with no confirmed CAO in place, I feel that it is my duty and obligation to follow the continuity of government provisions as outlined by the charter and step in and fill the position of mayor on an interim basis.

“Now is not a time for partisanship or personal agendas,” said Burke. “My priority is simply to ensure that the township government continues to operate as normal in the mayor’s absence.”

When DVJournal asked Kilkenny’s office why Burke was not interim mayor, the township sent this contradictory response: “In light of recent claims made by Council President Brian Burke, Upper Darby Township would like to clarify that Mayor Barbarann Keffer has not stepped down from office and remains the mayor of Upper Darby per thorough review of the Home Rule Charter by Upper Darby Township Legal Officer, Sean P. Kilkenny, Esq. Solicitor Kilkenny has clearly communicated to Council that ‘in accordance with Section 803 (F) of the Charter and in my capacity as the Township Legal Officer I have determined that the Mayor is not absent as is defined by the Home Rule Charter.’

Mayor Keffer is in contact with the Acting Co-Chief Administrative Officer to provide policy guidance and continues to carry out her duties as the Mayor of Upper Darby Township,” according to the statement.

So what’s really going on?

“Somebody’s got to mind the store,” says former Councilman Tom Wagner, who believes Burke is doing the right thing. And he dismissed Kilkenny’s objections as insider politics.

“The solicitor often takes the mayor’s side. He seems to think he is her lawyer, not the township’s,” Wagner said.

Keffer, who was also involved in a traffic accident during the Jan. 26 DUI incident, appointed Alison Dobbins and Rita LaRue as acting co-chief administrative officers in the wake of former township administrator Vince Rongione’s resignation in January amid controversy.

According to court documents, Keffer did not cooperate with police during her arrest and refused a breathalyzer test, mug shot, and fingerprints. She was arrested in Upper Chichester after leaving a Democratic fundraiser.

Residents were concerned about the township leadership, and some suggested that Council President Burke step in as acting mayor. Residents were also concerned that the acting administrators, whose positions are not listed in the Home Rule Charter, would not be able to sign township checks.

However, Quillen-Knox said that they do.

In what might be described as a surreal council meeting last Wednesday, many Upper Darby residents spoke about Keffer’s arrest and her entry into rehab after she posted an apology on the township’s website.

Although residents, some with sympathy for Keffer and others demanding that she resign, spoke out, one after the other, council members did not mention the incident that had tongues wagging throughout the township. Instead, after listening to hours of residents’ comments, the council went on with its business meeting as if nothing unusual had happened.

Resident Kyle McIntyre said he is proud of Keffer for entering rehab to deal with her addiction.

“We should all lend her the empathy and compassion all of us would deserve if we were struggling with addiction ourselves,” he said.

To the council, he said, “In no way is this an excuse for your own political advancement. The proverbial body was not cold before some of you began plotting. Let it play out and cease your palace intrigue.”

But Joanne Nammavong called the mayor out for refusing to take a breathalyzer test or to be photographed and fingerprinted.

“In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to refuse to take a breathalyzer when asked by a law enforcement officer,” Nammavong said, said that triggers a 12-month license suspension. “Will Upper Darby taxpayers pay for a car and driver?”

She added, “The mayor needs to resign immediately. She has no regard for human life.”


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