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Delaware County Councilwoman: ‘We’re Looking at a Sizable Tax Increase…For Next Year’

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther said last week the county was already eyeing a “sizable” new tax increase to meet the demands of an ever-expanding budget that now includes inflation-fueled pay raises, running a prison, and managing a health department that’s only two years old.

Reuther’s remarks at Wednesday’s personnel board meeting comes less than four months after council voted to approve a five percent tax increase on county residents — the first county-wide tax increase since 2014 and the first tax increase since Democrats took over the majority of the council after the 2019 elections.

Reuther seemed irked when responding to a presentation from the director of the county health department who was asking for a number of raises to complete a department “realignment.” Many of those raises, the director said, would be offset by grant funding.

But then the director said, “I think they [employees in other departments] too should consider the opportunity to get paid better.”

Reuther jumped in.

“But the problem is [the other employees are] not grant funded and we’re looking at a sizable tax increase just to keep things where they are for next year. So I mean, that’s the reality. I’m hoping it’s not going to be as sizable as some people think it will be, but there is going to be a…,” and Reuther then cut herself off.

(Video here, minute 25:25)

Reuther’s forecast of a “sizable tax increase” was underscored by comments made earlier in the meeting from Delaware County Controller Joanne Phillips, who questioned some of the raises that were up for approval.

As an independently elected official, Phillips is tasked with being the taxpayer’s watchdog. She is not, however, a member of the personnel board, and as such, addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I just wanted to make it clear that the costs that you’re considering today are just the salaries, not any other benefits, and the cost of our benefits that go into our budget,” Phillips began, (video, minute 1:10).

“Two, I wanted to make note that there’s an impact on our pension ultimately, which hasn’t really been determined as we accelerate our salaries. If that’s the case, our salaries have really gone up in the last couple years. We’ve gone from about $167 million after Covid after the prison came online to looking at really, almost $188 million about two years later. So we are incrementally raising this a great deal.”

In an email to Broad + Liberty, Phillips clarified that her 2022 payroll figure should have been $162 million, and she estimates $187 million for 2024 — in other words, an increase of $25 million in two years. The 2022 baseline payroll number already includes all of the employees added by the county taking over the prison and creating the health department.

Phillips also submitted a memo to the personnel board, which was just as stern in its warnings.

“The [Government Finance Officers Association] warns against excessive labor costs, noting that labor costs comprise a high proportion of most local governments’ budgets,” Phillips wrote.

“Excessive compensation costs can severely damage a government’s financial position.”

“After the grant funding ends, the County will be left with the entire cost of the program, especially compensation increases. That is the situation we see here in a few of the agenda items,” she added later in the memo.

A spokesperson for the county provided little additional information. “The [fiscal year] budget will be presented and voted on later this year. The County doesn’t have any additional comments to add,” said Adrienne Marofsky.

Phillips’ comments that each dollar in salary has other sidebar costs is accurate and apropos.

Broad + Liberty asked the county in 2022 how much it spent in these “parallel” costs on things such as the county’s obligation to make Social Security contributions for every employee, and the cost of fringe benefits like health insurance, etc.

The county gave an estimate of 70 percent. When Broad + Liberty double-checked to see if that meant that the county spent an additional 70 cents for every dollar of employee salary in other obligatory costs, the county did not respond.

Screenshot of email between Broad + Liberty reporter and Delaware County spokesperson, July, 2022

Broad + Liberty presented the same figures to the county again for the purposes of this report, and once again, the county did not respond to the core question.

If the county does have a parallel cost of 70 cents for every dollar of payroll, then the $25 million in payroll increases forecast by Controller Phillips means the county has incurred another $17.5 million in additional payroll obligations, like benefits, because of the raises.

Putting the two figures together means the county’s comprehensive cost of payroll increases from 2022 to 2024 will be around $42.5 million.

After Democrats won control of the county council in the wake of the 2019 elections, enacting many of the reforms they promised such as the creation of a county health department and de-privatizing the prison have put constant pressure on the budget. Some of that budgetary pressure was temporarily papered over by funds received from the federal government to help with the 2020 pandemic. But now, four years later, most of that pandemic money is gone.

When the county hired a consultant to estimate how much the county would spend if it operated the prison itself as opposed to the private contractor, the consultant’s top-end projection was $49.9 million.

In the current budget, the county is spending $56.6 million, even as the prison’s overall population has been drastically reduced by twenty percent or more.

In addition, the county is also now seeing the first wave of lawsuits from the prison now that it is the liable party for most of the prison activity, as opposed to the private contractor holding that liability.

Under Democratic control, the county has also spent millions more on outside legal help.

Previous analysis of the budget by Broad + Liberty estimated that even after passing the $5 million tax increase last year, the county was still facing an annual structural deficit of $65 million.

Biden Stumbles In Delco Campaign Speech

President Joe Biden took a victory lap at Strath Haven Middle School in Nether Providence Township on Friday after his Thursday night State of the Union speech.

While pundits have described Biden’s speech as “fiery” and “angry,” the 81-year-old Pennsylvania native was more subdued in front of the Delaware County audience. Biden’s local appearance also contrasted with his more focused and on-point performance in Washington, D.C. On Friday, he reverted to form, losing track of his thoughts and misspeaking several times.

Some of Biden’s difficult-to-parse remarks included, “We added more to the national debt than any president in his term in all of history;” and, “Pennsylvania, I have a message for you: Send me to Congress!”

But the Biden-friendly audience, which included many local politicians, cheered and applauded nonetheless, even throwing in a chant of “Four more years!”

Another key difference in his Delco speech was that Biden attacked his likely GOP opponent, Donald Trump, by name rather than referring to him as “my predecessor.”

“Folks, our freedoms really are on the ballot this November. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are trying to take away our freedoms,” Biden said. “That’s not an exaggeration. Well, guess what? We will not let him.”

Biden hopes the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade will again spur Democrats to vote.

“Those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America,” said Biden.

Biden touted the U.S. economy as “the envy of the world,” with “15 million new jobs in just three years” and unemployment at a “50-year low” with “800,000 new manufacturing jobs and counting.”

“Wages are up, and inflation is coming down,” he said. “Inflation’s dropped from 9 percent to 3 percent.”

He called for “the wealthy” and corporations to pay more taxes. He would set the corporate tax rate at 21 percent. “No billionaire should pay a lower tax than a teacher, sanitation worker, or nurse.”

He would set the tax rate at 25 percent for billionaires to raise $500,000 billion over the next 10 years, which the government would use to cut the deficit and “provide childcare.”

He said he’s fighting the pharmaceutical industry to lower the price of drugs and mentioned lowering the price of insulin to $35 a month for senior citizens, a move Trump made in his presidency. Biden promised he would lower the price of medications for all Americans.

Biden proposed giving Americans $400 a month tax credit toward their mortgage if it’s their first home or they’re moving to “a larger place.”

“We’re cracking down on big landlords who are price-fixing and driving up rents,” he said, adding Congress should pass his plan to “bring those rents down.”

“We’ve got $359 billion passed for climate change,” said Biden.

“We beat the NRA when I signed the most significant gun safety law in 30 years. Now, we have to beat the NRA again. I’m demanding a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Biden said.

Biden told his Delco audience his goals are the same as they were in 2020: to grow the middle class, to “restore the soul of America,” and to unite the country. Republican critics were quick to respond that his State of the Union speech a day earlier was one of the most partisan and divisive in history.

On the street outside Strath Haven Middle School, pro-Palestinian protesters picketed, chanting “Genocide Joe has got to go,” among other slogans.

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Delco Judge Backs Municipalities in Battle With County Over Health Inspectors

A Common Pleas judge ruled Thursday the Delaware County Health Department can’t bigfoot local municipalities when it comes to health inspections of restaurants, businesses, schools, and public swimming pools.

Judge James P. Bradley enjoined the Delaware County Health Department from inspections in the municipalities involved in his ruling after a Feb. 1 trial.

The towns include Middletown, Thornbury, Clifton Heights, Eddystone, Prospect Park, Ridley, and Lower Chichester.

In 2022, Judge Spiros Angelos ruled the county could not take over health inspections from first-class townships unless the townships agreed.

The DCHD was accredited on Feb. 28, 2022, and obtained state approval that April. It costs $10 million or so each year, but much of the funding comes from state and federal grants. Democrats, who swept county council offices in 2019, ran on creating a county health department.

Once inspectors were hired, the county began conducting health inspections in the 49 towns in the county. However, the municipalities mentioned above and a handful of others already had health departments in place and fought to continue performing the inspections locally.

Lower Chichester received a letter from the state Department of Health confirming it was entitled to continue the health inspections. The county then sued it, bringing it into the litigation. Other towns had sued the county to stop its inspectors from performing inspections.

Jim Byrne, the lawyer representing Springfield, Ridley and Aston, said he was “very pleased with the court’s ruling. I think it is consistent with facts and law.”

Jeff Seagraves, Thornbury Township manager, said, “We’re pleased with the outcome of the trial.”

Frank Catania, solicitor for Lower Chichester, said the municipality tried to work cooperatively with the county and even asked the state Health Department for guidance, only to be sued by the county.

Township administrator Joseph Possenti Jr. said they were “very disappointed” when the county sued them.

“We didn’t want to fight,” said Possenti. He said they tried to arrange talks with the county about the health inspections but were unsuccessful.

After the county sued Lower Chichester, county Councilwoman Christine Reuther brought up the litigation at the Dec. 6, 2023, council meeting and told her fellow council members that she objected to giving Lower Chichester a $45,000 grant to tear down a derelict building on Green Street.

“Lower Chichester is one of the municipalities which is refusing to allow Delaware County Health Department health inspectors to do their inspections,” said Reuther, saying the town had sued the county rather than the other way around. “They’re costing us to spend a considerable amount of money in legal fees.”

After listening to Reuther, the council voted against the grant.

Business owners were shocked to find that health inspection fees increased significantly when the county took over. Lower Chichester charges $75 to inspect a business. But the county charges $300 or $400, said Possenti.

“That’s what they charge some of these restaurants and bars,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

“I’m very happy with the judge’s decision,” said Possenti. “We’ve been doing this (health inspections) for a number of years… It’s small businesses in Lower Chi that get inspected, a pizza shop, and the elementary school. We’ve been doing it for years and doing it well. We’ve never had any issues with food contamination. Our health officers do a great job, and we don’t make money off it. We cover her fee and charge the customer.”

“The county is currently reviewing the opinion with its attorneys to determine whether to appeal,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky. “The county and the Delaware County Health Department remain committed to its mission to build healthy and thriving communities throughout Delaware County.”

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‘My Son Could Still be Alive, Maybe.’ — Delco Prison Suicide Raises Questions About Privacy Laws and Broken Cell Locks

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty)

Editor’s note: The following story has explicit descriptions of suicide and suicide attempts that may be disturbing for some readers. For anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideations, call 988. If it is an emergency, call 911.

For any family, a suicide is a tragedy not only of the death itself, but a tragedy of unanswerable questions that gnaw and corrode.

When that suicide happens in prison, the number of those destructive questions only multiplies.

This is the life now of Janet Owens of Elverson Borough, as she seeks what answers she can gather to the death of her son, Andrew Little, who hanged himself in a prison cell at Delaware County’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility on the first Saturday in June of 2022.

“They called me on Monday and I asked [the chaplain] some questions and she said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you.’ I asked her, ‘Was he on a mental health unit?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ ‘Was he receiving treatment?’ ‘I don’t know.’”

Andrew Wesley Little was born in September of 1987. With Andrew being her second son, Janet remembers him as a much more peaceful baby than her first.

“When he turned fourteen, fifteen, when he went through puberty, that’s when his mental illness kicked in and he took off and went out [to California] and lived on the streets,” Owens said.

Eventually, Owens was able to help get Andrew enrolled in the forestry program at Penn State, Mont Alto, but Andrew’s illness came to dominate again.

Court records show Andrew had numerous contacts with various police departments in Chester, Delaware, and Philadelphia. The dockets show mental illness factored into several of those cases, such as a judge requesting a mental evaluation.

Owen’s frustrations are many, as anyone might imagine. But in particular, she feels as though many medical privacy laws, like the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, acted as a constant barrier between her and her sick son.

Understandably, a law like HIPAA assumes that it is meant for individual, rational actors. But Owens feels like that’s where the HIPAA and other laws like it are incomplete, and incompatible with mental illness.

“The patient has an inability to recognize their own illness. And that’s why these people think, ‘I don’t need medication.’ And part of their paranoia is they’re [thinking] ‘They’re trying to poison me. They want to give me this medication.’ and that’s why they can’t be medicated or they won’t be medicated because they don’t believe there’s anything wrong with them.”

Owens pointed out that her son’s resistance isn’t just an anecdote, it’s a diagnosis — anosognosia, when “someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or that they can’t perceive their condition accurately,” a webpage from the National Alliance on Mental Illness says.

Retired, with abundant time to just think about her departed son, she wonders how else privacy laws put a wall between her and her son.

For example, Owens says her son was in Chester County months before he was transferred to Delaware County. While there, she says he attempted suicide twice. Owens wonders if a suicide attempt is privileged medical information, and if it is, would Chester County have been prohibited from relaying this safety information to Delaware County?

She says her numerous calls over months and years to jails, prisons, hospitals, all were turned away leaving her with no way to even begin to try and help.

There are other, more straightforward questions as well.

Broad + Liberty showed Owens documents obtained from Delaware County via Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.

In an email from April 15, 2022, a sergeant at the GWHCF alerts several other staff members that “On unit 10, we have multiples [sic] doors issues, ranging from broken locks to doors not being able to open or only open with keys,” (emphasis added). The email went on to say that many of those same cells in the unit were frequently subjected to sewage backups.

“Every time a toilet and sink are flushed, a backup of water and sometime [sic] feces into cells and day rooms,” the sergeant wrote.

The timing of the email is important because when it was written, the government had only taken over the management of the prison from a private operator earlier that month. The email represents one of the first alerts that the new management was struggling to deal with broken locks or inoperable doors, a problem that persists to this day.

On May 4, 2022, a work order shows a repair technician worked on cell A210 to replace a wire harness on the door lock, a door lock that is meant to be operated from a remote control room.

One month later in cell A210, Andrew Little hung himself apparently using sheets in the cell. But an incident report shows the door locks were still an obstacle for the officer who was rushing to help.

“Sgt. McDevitt stated that the cell door was inoperable from the Control room, so he quickly proceeded to the main hallway to retrieve the cell key from Officer Kpadeya.”

A portion of the incident report for Andrew Little. Highlights have been made after the fact by Broad + Liberty.

The documents stunned Owens.

“I was appalled to know that first, some of the letter from the maintenance man was saying that sewage has been seeping into these places. So is it sewage and backup that was making these [lock] systems not work? And then, if somebody should be watched regularly, what are they doing in a unit that locks and they can’t get to the locks in time? My son could still be alive, maybe.”

Two days after Little’s death, another work order shows the lock being fixed.

Owens’s theory about moisture is given credence when the technician noted, “Seems that moisture into the inner lock parts…” The rest of the report is obscured for some unknown reason.

The work order to fix the lock for Andrew Little’s cell two days after his death. Highlights have been made after the fact by Broad + Liberty.

Two sources with intimate knowledge of the prison say the run from Little’s cell to the control room and back for the physical keys would have taken at least two minutes, possibly as long as four minutes. Those sources have requested anonymity out of fear of career retaliation.

“He [Sgt. McDevitt] would’ve had to first run downstairs from the top tier (because that cell is on the second level), get buzzed through the 10A block door, secure that door, get buzzed out of the octagon door that connects all four blocks (A, B, C and D), get the cage door buzzed (there is a cage door that secured the control room) and finally get into the control room (which was probably already open because the officer knew he was coming). After retrieving the key you run through the same steps to get back on the unit to the cell,” one source explained.

The second source said other details in the incident report are telling. The report begins by noting that the officer who first became aware of the situation “was conducting chow relief on Unit 10[.]”

“The fact that the Sgt. is ‘conducting chow relief on Unit 10 control room’ is a very clear indicator that the unit was short staffed,” the second source said. “Essentially, the Sergeant had to step in as the Control Room Officer to allow another officer to take a lunch break. The report only mentions one other officer being present at the time of the incident. The information suggests that there was one Control Room Officer and one Block Officer left responsible for a unit that is supposed to have the highest level of security. If the unit were fully staffed it would consist of six total officers.”

The first source confirmed the concern about staffing levels, saying, “At the time of the incident only one officer was assigned to that block.”

The county declined to comment on several questions posed by Broad + Liberty, some of which were not specific to Little’s death.

Owens said she has already been working with local attorneys on a wrongful death lawsuit, prior to seeing the documents provided by Broad + Liberty. While no suit has been filed yet, should it be successful, she hopes to use any monetary awards to work on mental health issues.

“He [Andrew] shouldn’t have been in prison. He should have been in a mental health institute. And because there’s nowhere to go, that’s where he was. And if that’s what they’re going to do, then they need to protect these people, these kids, these children, these young men that should be getting care outside, but they don’t have anymore. And they closed them down. They closed down Brandywine. It was the last one here. He was in Belmont. He was in Brandywine. I can’t even tell you how many places he was.”

The incident makes clear Andrew was in Delaware County’s custody because of a parole violation related to an indecent exposure charge. None of the court dockets available on Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System website for Delaware County show charges for indecent exposure. But Owens says her son shouldn’t be thought of as a sexual offender, rather that he was mentally ill and had lost all sense of right and wrong. Supporting that idea is the fact that all of the dockets that are available from Delaware and Chester counties are for nonsexual offenses like disorderly conduct, trespassing, shoplifting, or simple assault.

Owens is estranged from her former husband, and Broad + Liberty was not able to find contact information for Little’s father.

Broad + Liberty has been able to get some answers for Owens. Her son was being housed in the mental health wing according to prison sources who spoke with Broad + Liberty. However, our inquiries did not get any kind of answer as to whether Little and other mentally ill patients were being checked on regularly.

As for whether HIPAA could have acted as a barrier between Little’s time in Chester County versus Delaware, Chester County spokeswoman Rebecca Brain responded to a hypothetical question about inmate privacy that essentially mirrored Little’s situation.

Brain first explained that the county contracts with Primecare for its delivery of medical care for the county’s correctional facility.

“If that inmate is then transferred to another correctional facility that also contracts with Primecare as its medical provider, that information is shared across Primecare’s medical record platform. If the correctional facility does not use Primecare as their medical provider, then Primecare, when aware of a transfer, drafts and sends a document with the patient/transporting authority which includes information regarding the inmate’s suicidal ideology and other basic medical information,” Brain explained.

“According to Primecare, this process falls under continuity of care, where no authorizations are required for the sharing of information between facilities. I would recommend reaching out to Primecare, as they are contracted as the medical provider for a number of prisons and could provide you with more information,” she said.

While this answers some questions, it raises others, such as whether one prison would be able to alert another about known suicide risks even if there were no direct transfer of the inmate, as is used in the hypothetical.

With reform in mind, Owens says she has been following changes in California led by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Governor Gavin Newsom’s Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court initiative would grant more authority to a civil court judge to mandate treatment,” a 2022 report from a CBS affiliate in San Francisco said. “Disability rights groups say that’s a violation of civil liberty. But some family members of the severely mentally ill say it may be the only way for them to survive.”

Delaware County’s prison had been privately managed for nearly 30 years until 2022. Although the formal transition to government management did not take place until April 2022, the county’s hand-picked warden, Laura Williams, started in February.

In the 23 months since then, the GWHCF has witnessed eleven deaths, four of them suicides.

Delco Inmate Who Died from Overdose was Left Unattended for More Than One Hour

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

An inmate who died of an overdose at the intake department of the Delaware County prison last June was left alone for more than an hour despite the fact that the intake sergeant had already noticed that the woman was on some kind of drug.

According to an incident report obtained by Broad + Liberty through a Right to Know Law request, the intake sergeant noticed that when Tiffany Koser was being checked into the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF), she “noticed that Koser appeared to be under the influence of something.”

That was at 9:00 p.m., according to the document.

“I told officer Hemmings to leave the [incarcerated person] on the unit so I can give her a drug test by urine,” the sergeant went on to write in the report. “After completing the discharge run, I went to cell 135 at 2222 [10:22 p.m.] I began knocking on the cell window and received no response from Koser.”


The county declined to answer any questions about the matter.


The Koser incident in June was the third of five deaths at the GWHCF in 2023. In November, the fifth death in the facility was an inmate who also died of an overdose. Broad + Liberty has filed a Right to Know request for that incident as well, and those documents are expected to be produced by the county before the end of the month.

Court documents indicate Koser was sentenced to serve 45 weekends for a DUI in Radnor Township sometime in 2022. She had several moving vehicle cases in Montgomery County, including another DUI charge from February 2022 in Worcester Township.

Broad + Liberty was unable to locate any family members of Koser to speak with.

A source with intimate knowledge of the prison said the revelations in the document should be concerning to Delaware County citizens.

“For a year and a half, there has been a pattern of preventable incidents. This incident reflects a systemic failure, in which an officer was successful in recognizing that an individual was under the influence of an unknown substance but did not notify medical staff so the individual could be evaluated and properly observed,” the source said. “Instead, the woman was put back in a cell by themselves and found unresponsive an hour later. To my knowledge, this sergeant is relatively new, so this seems to be an issue of proper training as well as staffing. I believe high turnover has forced people with little experience into these roles that, unfortunately, the prison hasn’t properly prepared them for.”

The source was granted anonymity because of concerns of career or political retaliation.

A spreadsheet of total payroll from 2022 previously obtained by Broad + Liberty shows that the sergeant earned just over five figures that year, suggesting that she was hired late that year. If that assumption is correct, the sergeant would have had less than a year on the job when the death occurred.

The revelations about the Koser incident come just as two guards were arrested this month for smuggling fentanyl into the prison. The arrest affidavits and supporting documents did not indicate the two guards were dealing to inmates, however.

The GWHCF has been a flashpoint in the county over the last decade as it was the last privately run prison in the commonwealth. Delaware County Democrats like Kevin Madden and Christine Reuther campaigned on deprivatizing it, which, after being elected in 2019, they set about doing.

The management of the facility officially transitioned from GEO Group to the county in April of 2022, although the county’s handpicked warden, Laura Williams, began her tenure with the prison on January 31 of that year.

Since then, the county has mostly achieved its goal of lowering the daily population. In media reports from late 2022, the county said it had lowered the daily population by about twenty percent.

However, other metrics and evidence show a prison that is in turmoil.

Ten total deaths have occurred at the prison since Warden Williams took the helm. That includes four suicides, one murder, one “delayed homicide,” two overdoses, and a medical emergency for an inmate while playing basketball. The cause of death for one inmate is still not known to Broad + Liberty at this time.

Those numbers far exceed those from the previous decade when eight inmates died over a three-year period under GEO’s management — something characterized by the prison’s Wikipedia page as a “controversy.” That would equate to about 2.6 inmate deaths per year, while the county is currently averaging five deaths per year under county control.

Additionally, that comparison assumes a steady prison population across those years, which isn’t the case. The death rate in the last two years has been greater given that the monthly population generally averaged close to 1,700 under GEO’s management, and has averaged closer to 1,200 under county management. More deaths are happening across a smaller number of prisoners.

Prior to the county’s takeover, it said reducing the recidivism rate was its top priority, but the facility’s own statistics show that the rate has remained pegged near 60 percent — basically identical to what it was under GEO.

Two Delco Correctional Officers Arrested for Allegedly Smuggling Fentanyl into County Prison

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Two correctional officers at the Delaware County prison were arrested Thursday and have been charged with smuggling into the prison a substance that tested positive for fentanyl , court filings and affidavits show.

Adham Diab, 43, and Lina Tarrad, 35, were both arrested by the Delaware County Criminal Investigations Division (CID). Both face three charges: drug possession, possession of contraband, and conspiracy to commit a crime with contraband and/or a possession of a drug. The arrest affidavits say Diab and Tarrad are married.

Magisterial District Judge Wendy B. Roberts set bail at $300,000 for both, requiring a ten percent deposit for release. The court docket says neither was able to post bail.

According to Diab’s arrest affidavit, a prison investigator went into a bathroom that is off limits to the incarcerated population. Diab had been in that bathroom moments before.

The investigator noticed a baggy of a substance that looked like a drug that had apparently been left behind. Investigators then sequestered both Diab and Tarrad and began to question them.

“Diab was then searched and in his pants pockets were one small baggie containing a white substance, stamped ‘waverunner,’” and a similar bag was found on Tarrad, according to the affidavits.

“The narcotics was field tested…and tested positive for Fentanyl,” the CID detective said in the affidavit.

A spokeswoman for the county declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The website, which tracks inmates all across the country, indicated that both suspects had been transferred to a different prison, most likely so the two would not be residents among the same prison population they had been policing just days before.

Fentanyl acts similar to opioids like heroin, but is “a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also estimates that “[o]ver 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

Court records also show the pair were involved in a landlord-tenant dispute last year in which the plaintiff, NOPG Owner LLC, was awarded over $9,000 in damages of unpaid rent.

The arrests come just weeks after the president of the prison employees union, Frank Kwaning, publicly went before the Delaware County Council to tell the five-member board that employee morale at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility was dangerously low.

“The [union] members are as frustrated as they could be. So through the members, I am told to let you know that the council should step in,” Kwaning said on Dec. 13. “Go to the facility. Talk to the members. The morale is at its lowest level. One may have thought that with this interim agreement that we have with the $3 raise that we have gotten — and we thank the council for agreeing with the union for the $3 raise — we were of the view that with the $3 raise, the morale was going to be up. But because of the treatment that has been meted out to the members, the morale is at its lowest, at best.”

Councilmember Richard Womack told Kwaning the county “would likely try and see if we could fix that in some kind of way.” Councilman Brian Madden, who heads the county Jail Oversight board refuted Kwaning’s notion that the council had been hands-off in its management style.

“Mr. Kwaning, I recognize your position as head of the union. Given the fact there is an open negotiation over an agreement, I will, as always, refrain from engaging in a back-and-forth about such things,” Madden said. “But I will certainly remind you and others that I am regularly at the facility and I am regularly interacting with the workforce. So, you know, any suggestion that council is not involved regularly with our facility would be inaccurate.”

The GWHCF was the last privately managed prison in Pennsylvania until 2022. In February of that year, the county installed its own handpicked warden. In April, the facility shifted back to government control.

Since then, the annual budget of the prison has gone up, recidivism has not been reduced, deaths per year at the facility are up, even though the daily population has been down by about nineteen percent.

Update: This article has been modified from its original version to include information about the 2023 landlord-tenant dispute involving Tarrad and Diab.

Delaware County Council, DA and Judges Take Oath of Office

(From a press release)

Delaware County Council Members Monica Taylor Ph.D., Elaine Paul Schaefer, and Christine A. Reuther, and District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer were sworn in to begin four-year terms during an Induction Ceremony held on January 2. Court of Common Pleas Judges Barry C. Dozer, Richard M. Cappelli, and William C. Mackrides were sworn in as reelected judges, as well as newly elected judge Rachel Ezzell Berry.

President Judge Linda A. Cartisano presided over the ceremony in The Honorable John V. Diggins Ceremonial Courtroom at the historic Delaware County Courthouse in Media.

During the standing room only induction ceremony, Taylor was administered the oath of office by the Honorable Atinuke B. Moss, Court of Common Pleas Judge. Her introduction was by state Rep. Heather Boyd (D-Upper Darby), the presentation of the certificate of election was done by her husband Jason Taylor, and the Bible was held by her daughters Maya, Zoey, and Isabel Taylor.

Schaefer was administered the oath of office by Common Pleas Judge Atinuke B. Moss. Her introduction was by PA State Representative Lisa A. Borowski (D-Radnor), the presentation of the certificate of election was done by her husband John Schaefer, and the Bible was also held by her husband.

Council Member Elaine Paul Schaefer with husband, John Schaefer.

Reuther was administered the oath of office by Common Pleas Judge Stephanie H. Klein. Her introduction was by her daughter Katherine Loiselle, the presentation of the certificate of election was done by her husband John M. Loiselle, M.D., and the Bible was held by her friend, Alexis Glass.

Stollsteimer was administered the Oath of Office by the Honorable Linda A. Cartisano, President Judge, Court of Common Pleas. His introduction was by George J. Badey, Esq. The presentation of the certificate of election was done by Cheryl Gross, and the Bible was held by his wife, Judi, and children John and Sarah Stollsteimer.

Court of Common Pleas Judge reelect Barry C. Dozer was administered the Oath of Office by the Honorable John P. Capuzzi, Court of Common Pleas Judge. His introduction and presentation of the Certificate of Election was by Sam S. Auslander, Esquire. The Bible was held by his wife, Rose M. Dozer.

Court of Common Pleas Judge reelect Richard M. Cappelli was administered the Oath of Office by the Honorable Dominic F. Pileggi, Court of Common Pleas Judge. His introduction was by the Honorable Anthony D. Scanlon, Court of Common Pleas Judge. The presentation of the certificate of election was done by his son, Andrew Cappelli, and the Bible was held by his wife, Cindy, daughter, Amy Cappelli, esq., son-in-law, John Mikus, and granddaughters Ella and Emma Mikus.

Court of Common Pleas Judge reelect William C. Mackrides was administered the Oath of Office by the Hon. George A. Pagano, Court of Common Pleas Judge. His introduction and presentation of the Certificate of Election was done by his son Daniel G. Mackrides, Esquire. The Bible was held by his wife, Nancy Reagan Mackrides, and sons Daniel G. Mackrides, Esquire, and Nicholas W. Mackrides, M.D.

Council Member Christine Reuther (second from left)

Newly elected Court of Common Pleas Judge Rachel Ezzell Berry was administered the oath of office and introduced by the Honorable Robert J. Jonker, Judge, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The presentation of the Certificate of Election was done by her parents Kenneth and Polly Sacco Ezzell. The Bible was held by her husband, Andrew Berry, and children, Benjamin, Michael, and Elijah. Her Robing was done by her parents Karen and Jack Bacon.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Delaware County Director of Military and Veteran Affairs Col. Arthur Jenkins, and the National Anthem was performed by Ridley Middle School Chorus member Ryan Cavalieri.

After the Induction Ceremony, County Council held its organizational meeting. Taylor was elected as chair and Richard Womack was elected as vice chair—making history in Delaware County. For the first time in Delaware County’s history, two people of color hold the titles of chair and vice chair of Delaware County Council.


Delco’s Festival of Lights and Holiday Village Opens December 1

(From a press release) 

Each December, Rose Tree Park glimmers at night, welcoming visitors to enjoy a wintery walk in the park after dark. Delaware County Council and the County’s Department of Parks and Recreation are thrilled to announce the 48th annual Festival of Lights in Rose Tree Park, which opens on Friday, December 1.

“We’re grateful to host this wonderful event every year in Rose Tree Park,” said Marc Manfre, Director of Delaware County Parks and Recreation. “It’s a favorite local gathering place that really gets you into the holiday spirit.”

Delaware County’s annual Festival of Lights began over four decades ago as part of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration and quickly became a popular local tradition. Over time, the outdoor displays have grown from 50 decorated trees (one for each municipality and one large one to represent the County) to more than 100 lit trees and many festive displays, including candy canes, a penguin family, and Santa’s reindeer.

The festival will kick off with the park’s traditional Tree Lighting Ceremony at 5:00 PM on December 1, with a welcome from County Council and seasonal songs by the Springton Lake Middle School Select Choir. The illumination of the trees will usher in Santa’s arrival and the opening of the Delco Holiday Village.

The 3rd annual Delco Holiday Village offers food trucks and a variety of local vendors, making Rose Tree Park the perfect spot to enjoy the flavors of Delco while shopping and supporting local businesses.

“We are thrilled to host this treasured Delco tradition once again this year and offer residents a fun and festive venue to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy the beautiful light displays, shop local, and enjoy some local cuisine in Rose Tree Park,” said Delaware County Council Vice Chair Elaine Paul Schaefer.

Presented by the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, the Holiday Village operates on select evenings from 5:30-8:00 p.m. It is scheduled for December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16 (the first three Friday and Saturday evenings).

Director Manfre highlighted some exciting new additions and changes for this year’s festival, made possible by the new sidewalk in the park which was completed over the summer.

“This year, the display area will extend to the rear parking lot behind the historic building known as the Hunt Club. Visitors will be able to stroll further than before, and there will be more space to enjoy the Holiday Village.”

Although the new playground itself will be closed after dark, the newer trees and plantings surrounding it will be lit up, and some of the displays have been relocated to that area.

Also new this year- a lighted archway to guide visitors along the new path and a DJ playing holiday music to add to the festive atmosphere of the Holiday Village.

The Festival of Lights is a walk-through display and runs nightly from 5:00-10:00 PM, December 1 through January 1. Admission and parking are free. Handicapped parking is available. Friendly, leashed dogs are welcome.

For event notifications, such as weather cancellations, text the word DELCOPARKS to 888777 or select Parks & Recreation Alerts in the Delco Alert system. For more information or call 610-891-4455.



Delco Begins Phased Rollout of E-pollbooks

(From a press release) 

Delaware County Elections is beginning a phased rollout of new Electronic Pollbooks, also referred to as “e-pollbooks,” during the November 7, 2023 Municipal Election. Voters and poll workers at 168 of the County’s 428 precincts will be utilizing the new e-pollbooks in this election, with a full phase in of e-pollbooks by the 2024 Presidential Election. The cutting-edge e-pollbooks modernize the voter check-in process and have multiple advantages over traditional paper pollbooks, officials said.

Traditional paper pollbooks have long played a role in elections, but have several limitations compared to the new e-pollbooks.

Limitations of Paper Pollbooks

  • Paper pollbooks are outdated as soon as they are printed and require workers to check “supplemental pages,” while the e-pollbooks contain the latest registration and mail-ballot data.
  • Paper pollbooks have information only for voters in one precinct, while the e-pollbooks contain basic information on all 400,000-plus Delaware County voters. This means any voter in the wrong polling place can be quickly directed to the right location with a personalized printout with their correct polling site and address.
  • Paper pollbooks, similar to phone books, are far slower to use.
  • Each entry in the paper pollbooks must be scanned manually after Election Day, a process that can take weeks to generate the list of participating voters, often after the election is certified.
    E-pollbooks generate the lists shortly after Election Day, long before the certification.

With the transition to e-pollbooks, Delaware County Elections aims to surmount these limitations and usher in a new era of efficiency and transparency in electoral administration. Here are some benefits of e-pollbooks.

One key advantage of the e-pollbooks is the ability to check-in voters more quickly. Instead of searching through hundreds of pages in a paper pollbook, workers with an e-pollbook simply enter the first three letters of a voter’s last name and first three letters of the first name to find the record. After the voter signs on the e-pollbook, a “ticket” is printed that the voter presents to the poll workers who record the voter’s name in the Numbered List of Voters and issue the ballot to the voter. The paper tickets later can be used, with the Numbered List, in post-election audits. This efficient method significantly reduces waiting times and human error, ensuring a smoother and faster voting experience.

In locations where multiple precincts share a voting space, the task of managing check-ins can be complex. E-pollbooks make this process more straightforward by allowing poll workers to manage the check-ins for two to six precincts simultaneously. This approach minimizes confusion, ensures voters are directed to the correct precinct the first time, and maintains the integrity of the electoral process. For this reason, Delaware County is deploying the first e-pollbooks at sites that host multiple precincts.

Sometimes, voters may find themselves at the right address but at the wrong table in a room serving two or more precincts. E-pollbooks help re-direct voters to their correct polling place or room, eliminating guesswork and reducing phone calls or online searches. This feature is especially useful in larger buildings, such as schools or community centers, where voters might arrive in the gym but need to go to the cafeteria.

In cases where a voter’s name is misspelled in the records or a voter has recently changed their name (e.g., registered as “Mary Jones” but changed the name to “Mary Smith-Jones”), e-pollbooks offer the flexibility to search by date of birth or address. This feature helps avoid voter disenfranchisement and allows individuals who have undergone name changes to exercise their right to vote without complications.

E-pollbooks provide poll workers with consistent instructions for every voter situation. Whether a voter needs to provide identification, submit a mail ballot and envelope, or cast a provisional ballot, e-pollbooks offer clear and standardized guidance. For example, e-pollbooks present poll workers with a full list of acceptable forms of ID. This consistency enhances the overall voting experience and ensures that all voters are treated fairly.

One of the most noteworthy advantages of e-pollbooks is the increased transparency they bring to the electoral process. They generate lists of voters who cast ballots on Election Day before the election is certified. This transparency builds trust and security to the election.

The addition of e-pollbooks is a critical step toward modernizing and improving the election process for poll workers and voters at the same time. This roll-out of e-pollbooks to 168 precincts follows a successful pilot project at the May 2023 Primary, when e-pollbooks were used at three locations that hosted 11 precincts in Brookhaven, Middletown, and Upper Darby. Poll workers at the pilot-project precincts reported strong satisfaction with the e-pollbooks.

As with the pilot project in May, the precincts in the roll out will have paper pollbooks to use only as emergency back-ups.

Delco GOP Candidates Hold Town Hall on Crime in Upper Darby

A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows that the third most important issue for Pennsylvanians is crime.

Republican candidates running for Delaware County and Upper Darby offices held a town hall meeting at American Legion Post 214 about crime Wednesday evening. About 65 residents attended, although several complained about landlord/tenant issues, saying the township is not enforcing its codes against absentee “slum lords.”

Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski, who is running for district attorney against incumbent DA Jack Stollsteimer, spoke first.

“I’m pretty passionate about championing the rights of individuals who need support, who are underprivileged, under-served. I’m incredibly passionate about that. That’s what I’ve done my entire career,” said Stefanide-Miscichowski.

“Crime is up in Delaware County for (2022) the last full year 25.5 percent,” she said. For 2023, crime is “on a trajectory to be even higher.”

And “Upper Darby is seeing a rise in crime. They’re specifically seeing a rise in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter cases,” Stefanide-Miscichowski said.  “Your five-year average for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter is four. You’re on track for 2023 to double that rate…But you’ve had a 75 percent uptick in murders in the last five years. If that isn’t bad enough, you’re actually on track to have a higher per capita murder rate than the city of Philadelphia.”

Council President Brian Burke talks to Derrick Neal.

Council President Brian Burke, who is running for mayor, said all 11 council members voted on ordinances to put $13.5 million of federal ARPA funds to work. But Mayor Barbarann Keffer refuses to release the checks for much-needed projects, such as firehouse repairs, hiring new police officers and “we need police officers on the street.  We need police officers around our schools.”

“It’s very dangerous,” said Burke. “Two months ago, I was in the Secane area speaking to a young student who was shot. He blew us all away. He talked to us for 10 minutes. He was shot in the head. His friends were scared of the school.”

“Two weeks ago, at the bottom of the hill at 69th Street, a young man grabbed me and started talking to me. He wants metal detectors. He wants infrared. He wants K-9 dogs in our schools. It’s dangerous for these children to go to school in the middle school.”

“What happens today, if a 13-year-old shoots a 13-year-old for a pair of sneakers, where do they go? Nine hours in the police department, and then they’re released (because the county no longer has a juvenile detention center).”

“Our police officers do not have the tools to do their jobs,” said Burke. “My main concern is public safety. My second is recreation. We need places for our kids to go (and) for students to go after school. The school district and the township need to work together.”

Tina Hamilton, who runs Recovery Without Barriers, is campaigning for a council-at-large seat.  She said the police need to send addicts to her organization to get help.  And if there is a code blue for cold weather, they have beds for them.

“We can get help for the people who need it,” she said. “We can change lives, and we can change everybody’s by doing it.”

Jeff Jones, an Upper Darby resident running for county Council, said he’s helped Hamilton in her work over the years.

County Council candidate Jeff Jones speaks to a resident.

“County Council is ultimately the infrastructure that supports our communities,” said Jones. “Remember, we’ve moved to Delaware County, to Upper Darby, because we wanted to build a legacy. The schools at the time were good…Today, that legacy, that quality of life we saw, is diminished by reckless behavior.”

“The county government decided it would take over the prison. In that process, the DA’s office implemented its system of offering people not to go to jail by not prosecuting certain crimes…What I do believe in is a prison system that first and foremost protects its employees, the folks charged with keeping us safe, keeping those incarcerated safe and healthy.”

Corrections officers have said, “‘We don’t feel safe,’” he said. Jones said there should be a penalty and rehabilitation while someone is behind bars.

“What matters is service to the community and the people who live here,” he said.

After the candidates’ remarks, residents spoke up.

“I’m speaking with a passion now at the town hall,” said Rich Blye, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. “These problems started happening with our youth because you took away PAL (Police Athletic League).  The kids have no place to go. They started being book-bagged with the drugs. They started filling them with drugs, OK?”

“We have a turnstile type of justice,” Blye said. “Because I’m a father with a murdered son, so I know what I’m talking about…We need the PAL back…We need the district attorney’s office to help…We need all functions of the government to help.”

Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski at the Upper Darby town hall.

“Looking at the crime map, it’s coming this way,” said Andrea Mathis. “Businesses are not keeping up…look at the amount of trash and overflowing dumpsters. That draws the crime. That’s beyond blight. We have an ‘F’ rating for crime. That’s deplorable…We don’t have police officers patrolling on foot. We’re short-staffed…We don’t have the tools to address the dysfunction that is happening…We have a lot of renters (who) don’t keep up their property. They may bring in 10 others to help them (pay the) rent. It’s just out of hand. And nobody’s paying attention.”

Burke said that he’d called the code enforcement officers on her behalf. And Upper Darby Council directed ARPA money for streetscaping, but the mayor did not release it.”

He agreed that landlords need to be held accountable.

Hamilton said more oversight is needed to clean up the problems with negligent landlords.

“You should be able to reach out to a council member, and I promise you can reach out to me,” Hamilton said.

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