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Chester’s Incoming Mayor Sees Receiver as Partner, Not Opponent

Chester’s new mayor wants a better relationship with the Pennsylvania government-appointed receiver overseeing the city’s finances.

On the Delaware Valley Journal podcast, Mayor-elect Stefan Roots acknowledged disincorporation is a real threat to the city’s existence, but he sees the state receiver and “getting through bankruptcy” as the solution. Roots sees Receiver Michael Doweary and his team as potential partners for the city to turn its fiscal fortunes around.

“One of the things that is going to help bankruptcy move along is to reduce the amount of challenge that we have brought to the receiver and his team… we’re going to get through this,” said Roots.

That would be a major political reversal in Chester City Hall. Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland has regularly clashed with Doweary, who was appointed in 2020 by then-Gov. Tom Wolf. The pair have gone to court over city salaries, and Kirkland once used a racial slur towards Doweary. Pennsylvania government attorneys accused Kirkland of “intentionally vexatious and obdurate behavior…which has wasted taxpayer dollars and…time that the City of Chester does not have.”

Roots’ strategy is to embrace the financial resources the receiver can bring to Chester while protecting the city’s autonomy.

“There’s been a lot of talk that he’s coming here to change the form of government or run the city, and that’s not the case at all,” Roots said.

“Working with the receiver, in my mind, does not mean falling into line with everything he wants to do. This is our city. This is my city,” Roots said. “We expect to come to terms on most things, but he’s not going to run over me.”

Chester’s fiscal books are full of red ink. The city lost $400,000 meant for the city employee workers’ compensation insurance fund after soon-to-be former Councilman William Morgan fell for a phishing scam. He was later removed from overseeing the city’s finances and voted out of office in this year’s Democratic primary. Other issues involve $127 million in unfunded pension benefits and $232 million owed for retiree healthcare.

Doweary warned the city could be dissolved if it didn’t get its house in order. Doweary’s chief of staff later told DVJournal it needed $5 million to make payroll in January 2024. Chester was put into Chapter 9 bankruptcy earlier this year.

Roots wants an equal partnership between the city and Doweary. “I’m bringing experts to the table as well, with the receiver. His emphasis is on finances…but the city definitely has to have input” on whatever financial changes might happen.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED)has defended Doweary’s time as Chester receiver, praising him for working with Chester elected officials and taking “many positive steps on the road to financial recovery.” That included hiring a chief of staff to run the government and suggesting that a chief financial officer (CFO) be hired in the future.

The DCED wants Doweary to remain on the job for a few more years. There is still a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on whether Doweary overstepped his bounds.

SZEKELY: Montco Sheriff Abuses His Office With Fetterman Endorsement

My name is Andy Szekely and like John Fetterman, who is running for the United States Senate, I was once a small-town mayor. Unlike John Fetterman, I never pulled a gun on someone or attempted to play police officer without any formal training. In 2013, John Fetterman chased and then detained jogger, Chris Miyares, a black man for what he thought was a shooting in progress.

Not only was this action reckless and dangerous, but Fetterman tried to justify his behavior by saying that as the mayor, and therefore chief law enforcement officer, it was his duty to act as he did. I can tell you that every responsible mayor in America would condemn his actions. Additionally, every police chief and every municipal solicitor would condemn his vigilantism as well.

And while the example above is the most egregious action committed by Fetterman while he was mayor, there are numerous other examples of unethical and distasteful behavior. For example, according to Wikipedia, John Fetterman frequently missed council meetings. He retaliated against his mayoral opponent, Jayme Cox, through using his position as mayor to release non-public records that showed that Cox was arrested in 2004. Even the solicitor agreed Fetterman’s conduct constituted “an abuse of his mayoral authority” and violated the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act. These actions were vengeful and retaliatory and should have disqualified Fetterman for re-election.

Recently, the sheriff of Montgomery County and municipal lawyer, Sean Kilkenny, has endorsed John Fetterman for Senate in a television ad touting his record on crime. There is poor judgment here on two counts: one, Kilkenny is wrong to use the sheriff’s office—especially while wearing his uniform—to endorse Mr. Fetterman and two, as the chief law enforcement officer in the county and solicitor to several municipalities throughout the county, he should know better than to overlook this serious breach of conduct on behalf of John Fetterman.

Not only did Fetterman put Chris Miyares’ life at risk, but he also put the lives of innocent bystanders at risk as well in the town of Braddock. And of course, Kilkenny wearing his solicitor’s hat should also be critical of Fetterman for his lack of attendance at council meetings and his violation of the Pennsylvania Criminal History Information Act. Fetterman was bad for Braddock and Fetterman will be bad for Pennsylvania and the United States. Kilkenny should know this.

From a small-town mayor’s point of view, John Fetterman’s conduct while mayor of Braddock was deplorable with no lasting results. I cannot imagine the outcry if I had behaved similarly during my nine and half years as mayor of Lansdale. His success as mayor of Braddock was as superficial as the Carhartt clothes and hoodies he wears. I hope the public can see the truth through his vanity and therefore put an end to his play-acting politician.

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KENYATTA: It’s Quitting Time for Mayor Jim Kenney

As a lifelong Philadelphia resident, I know being mayor is hard.

In a city as big and diverse as Philadelphia, which is grappling with a gun violence crisis that hasn’t abated, a chronically underfunded school district, a dumping and trash nightmare, and staggering levels of deep poverty underpin it all. These issues make the job even more challenging. You will get no argument from me there.

But at this moment, this city and its 1.6 million residents deserve a mayor who hasn’t given up. We need a mayor who wants to lead and believes in this city’s future–not one counting his days until the clock tolls on his administration.

The worst-kept secret in politics is that Jim Kenney is tired of being mayor. At a recent presser following the shocking July 4th Parkway shooting, he said the quiet part out loud. “…I’ll be happy when I’m not mayor, so I can enjoy stuff.”

As I watched him and heard those remarks, I thought, “Why wait?” Mayor Jim Kenney should resign — now.

The city is reeling from yet another shooting – this time of two police officers, followed by a massive stampede after the shots rang out. The last thing we need is a Ben Simmons attitude in City Hall.

I say this with no personal animosity. I know behind that painted scowl, Jim Kenney is a good man. However, this city needs a real leader now, and we can’t afford to wait until the next election in sixteen months.

Philadelphia has some massive challenges. But to paraphrase a former president: there is nothing wrong with this city that can’t be fixed by what’s right with it.

For every tragic murder, an activist or an organization tries to stop the cycle of violence and help grieving families. For every pile of trash illegally dumped, there are folks like Terry Haigler and block captains hosting clean-ups and demanding change. For every school that must close early because there is no breathable air cool enough and free enough from lead, asbestos, and mold, there is a host of student leaders, parents, and “friends of” civic groups trying to make an impact.

We need a mayor who feels our pain but believes in our possibilities.  Because without that leadership, people are killed, children struggle and families give up on the city and move away.

Philadelphia is the city of big ideas–huge, history-shaping ideas. The experiment in democracy was debated, and our republic was born here at Independence Hall. We are home to our nation’s first hospital, university, zoo, public library, art museum, and volunteer fire company, among other achievements. We need a mayor who reminds us of those facts, who lifts us up with hope and encouragement. We need a mayor that inspires us to unleash our possibilities.

We need a mayor who wants the damn job.

For the sake of our city and our people, Jim Kenney should clock out and let someone who cares finish his term. In 2023, the people of Philadelphia must find the leader we need from a field of candidates that will be as diverse and talented as our city.

Dear Future Mayor — we need you.

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Upper Darby Council Approves Investigation into Mayor, CAO, Use of Federal Funds

2-17 Update: At Wednesday’s meeting, the council approved an investigation into the township’s finances by a 6-5 vote. Voting in favor were Councilors Wagner, Faraglia, Andruszko, Burke, Silva, and Wentz. Voting against were Councilors Blackwell, Hayman, Siddique, Tunis, and Billups.Video of the discussion is here.

Although the specter of any fiscal emergency in Upper Darby Township has been temporarily dispelled with an emergency allocation on federal funds approved last week, the political battle continues to burn behind the scenes as one councilwoman claims she has proof the mayor’s administration moved or spent funds without council approval.

Laura Wentz (D) is one of a bipartisan group of six council members pressing Mayor Barbarann Keffer (D) and her Chief Administrative Officer Vince Rongione on financial transparency issues after the township treasurer said some federal money provided through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) appeared to already have been spent or moved to another account.

While the mayor has the prerogative to establish priorities for the money, those priorities and actions must still be approved by council.

So, when the township treasurer said earlier this month that $6 million of the overall $20 million in ARP funding didn’t show up in the correct bank accounts, the group of six began aggressively trying to assert their authority.

“Not only do we believe that we have proof showing that the funds were spent, but then [the administration] spent two days, two or three days running around gathering money to put back to recreate that 6 million. I don’t know where they took it from, and that’s another concern,” Wentz told Broad + Liberty. “So, it’s an investigation of where’d the money go, how it was spent and where did the money come from that replaced it.”

Chief Administrative Officer Vince Rongione has been the focal point of the council’s ire, and says the entire affair is constructed of misunderstandings and incomplete information.

“I think we move money around all the time in the normal course of business,” Rongione said when told that Wentz claimed to have proof of irregularities.

“Anyone looking at the transactions, who’s not familiar with how the government functions might have some questions or concern about that, but it’s a regular occurrence that we move money from one account to another to make payroll or pay other expenses,” Rongione continued. “So, there’s nothing remarkable, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about money moving between and among our accounts.”

Rongione asserted that the $20 million is all presently accounted for “in a single, segregated account.”

Township Treasurer David Haman, who sparked the debate with his presentation at a council meeting on Feb. 2, said the federal ARP money should have been treated differently.

“Yes, [Rongione] is correct in that they move money all over the place, but they don’t move restricted funds around like that,” Haman said. “They move funds that are unrestricted as to use, and that are authorized for use by the council. It has to be authorized by use for the council, or he is not allowed to spend the money. So, the question here, the argument, is whether or not he used funds that were authorized for use by the council.”

If council approves the investigation, it could very well set up parallel inquiries, as Mayor Keffer has proposed an audit.

“We certainly believe that an internal, politically motivated investigation by council will not be helpful at giving the public confidence or ascertaining the truth,” Rongione said. “Which is why we believe that the best way forward is an independent, impartial, third-party audit of the facts.”

Meanwhile, although Wentz says she has a smoking gun, she believes the way in which that information reaches the public could be crucial to the overall debate.

“I think that [having] it all come out through an investigation makes it more legit than the finance committee just revealing” what the documents show, she said.

An audit and an investigation are not necessarily the same thing.

“The council investigation would be to determine whether the CAO [Rongione] violated the home rule charter,” Haman noted. “Because if the CAO violates the home rule charter, he forfeits his office and that’s the terminology that’s used. And so, they’re looking to determine whether they can force him out based upon the evidence presented in an investigation.”

This article first appeared in Broad+Liberty.

ROSICA: An Election Education in West Chester

When I decided to run for Mayor of West Chester, I did not expect to win.  Most Libertarians and other smaller parties have an uphill battle in our two-party-dominated system.

My goal was to raise awareness and to give voters a viable alternative. Later, I started to think that our campaign might be competitive. My enthusiasm grew each day I went out door-knocking, talking to potential voters. Many expressed dissatisfaction with the current borough politics and responded favorably to the ideas in my platform. They were enthusiastic about supporting positive change and a localized, community approach to government. The fact that I had a solid platform with concrete plans to implement quickly also helped.

The League of Women’s Voters hosted a debate for the three mayoral candidates. This was an exciting — and rare — experience for most Borough residents made even more rare by having third-party participation. The debate exceeded my expectations. It was fun, challenging, thought-provoking, and an opportunity to share my platform.  The feedback from voters, friends, and neighbors was outstanding. They appreciated the amount of research I conducted in preparation for the debate and my candidacy. Afterward, I was pleased to find several borough council members expressing their support for my candidacy following the debate.

While our campaign team became increasingly optimistic about the possibility of a Libertarian win, other groups in the borough must have also sensed a shift in the momentum.  The negativity began.

Before the debate, I experienced mostly positive feedback both in person and through social media.  Now things started to become heated, and even some of my long-time neighbors transitioned from friendship to politics. This was disappointing because I had made a commitment to run an upbeat campaign that focused on issues and solutions.  Our campaign never criticized other candidates. Instead, we focused on our policy issues.  Unfortunately, we were not always granted the same courtesy.

In the end, my biggest disappointment was not losing the election. Instead, it was the lack of decorum and professionalism from some members of our community.  I was always happy to talk with anyone about my views on issues, even when we disagreed, but civil discourse seems to be a lost art.  It was distressing to see people impacted by peer pressure and social media blindly take sides and reject not only opposing views but the person expressing them.

This lack of civil discourse led me to ask, “when was the turning point?”  It was once acceptable and even encouraged for friends and neighbors to discuss politics in a spirited but respectful way. People were willing to share their perspectives without fear of repercussions or losing friendships.  It was ok to “agree to disagree” and remain friends.

Today, however, that does not generally seem to be the case.  This has been occurring nationally for a while, yet I was still surprised to discover this behavior in our own community. I am thankful for so many wonderful aspects of the campaign. I met incredible residents who appreciated the issues we raised. I have been overwhelmed by cards, notes, flowers, and thank-you notes for doing what I believe is right. On reflection, I will focus on the positive aspects of the experience and will continue to work hard to bring our community together and model civil discourse.  Maybe others will follow this example and grow to understand that our different perspectives actually make our community stronger.

A politician once wrote about this problem. “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend… I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side… the fever is abating, and doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart and return again.” This quote is from a letter written in 1800 by a politician named Thomas Jefferson. West Chester Borough residents and the entire nation could benefit from these words written over 200 years ago.


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