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Specter of Violence Casts Shadows Over Local Football Traditions

High school football has been a tradition in the Delaware Valley for decades. But recent safety concerns for players, coaches, and fans have cast a shadow over football enthusiasm.

On the opening night of the 2022 season on August 26, the game between neighbors Upper Darby and host Bonner Prendergast was terminated with 10:51 remaining in the fourth quarter following an incident in the stands.

Spectators rushed onto the field after a rumor spread through the crowd that a weapon had been displayed or discharged in the stands. But no weapon was found and no shots were fired.

Upper Darby School District Superintendent Dr. Daniel McGarry issued a statement the following afternoon that read in part: “We know that last evening was very traumatic for all involved. The district will be providing resources and support for the students who need to speak with someone at each of our schools on Monday.  Our focus right now is on making sure that we provide our students and staff with the support(s) they need.”

He thanked the members of the football, team, coaching staff, cheerleaders, and administrators for their efforts to get spectators to safety.

McGarry told WTAF-TV, “Even though we know that there wasn’t actually a shooting that happened, it was still a pretty scary moment for students and family members.”

“We’re blessed here in Upper Darby Township,” he said. “We have a great police chief in Tim Bernhardt who stayed in contact (through the weekend following the game). They’re still doing an investigation. They don’t know everything that occurred at this point in time. There was speculation that there was a fight that occurred somewhere in the crowd. We don’t know all the details.”

In hopes of preventing similar incidents, Upper Darby’s home football games are now kicking off at 5 p.m. rather than the customary 7 p.m.

The Upper Darby-Bonner Prendergast game was not the only one to be interrupted by a disturbance. The game between host Cheltenham and traditional rival Abington was halted late in the 4th quarter (Abington won 26-8) following a series of altercations in the stands that required the intercession of the Cheltenham Township Police Department.

Those events happened a year after an incident at another football game in Delaware County led to the death of an 8-year-old girl. Fanta Bility of Sharon Hill was fatally shot outside Academy Park High School football stadium on August 27, 2021, following a game between Academy Park and Pennsbury.

Bility died from shots fired by Sharon Hill police officers while three other people were wounded. The borough terminated the three officers involved in the shooting, Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney, who all face 12 counts each of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment.

Chris Shelly has been football coach at Springfield Township in Montgomery County for 16 seasons. A graduate of the school who played both football and baseball, he has close ties to the community.

“It seems like this world has gone haywire and upside down the last three or four years,” he said “I can’t explain it.”

Shelly said he appreciated the support he receives from the administration at Springfield and from the community at large. “When (incidents) happen anywhere I just feel very fortunate I think to be in our community,” he said. “The stuff that happens, I’m really not smart enough to explain why that stuff goes down. I really don’t know why.

“It’s really sad all around, but I think you have enough good people who love football in the community that they’re going to the right things to get the right kind of environment.”

Chas Cathers is athletic director at Hatboro-Horsham High School. Asked if the atmosphere surrounding high school football has changed throughout his career, he said the fears are generally overblown.

“I think like everything you see ups and downs,” Cathers said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s changed much. I think the 24 schools in Suburban One [sports league], the administrators, the principals the superintendents, they all do a fantastic job of making sure they’re prepared when they host big events so I really am fortunate enough that I haven’t experienced much of a change.”

Cathers says one key is for game staff at an event to be visible and interact with those attending that event.

“They’re visible, they’re interacting with our community and our spectators,” he said. “Everybody knows that we may see different events that happen at a game, but we’re all on the same page with what the protocol is in the event that we have an incident and how we’re going to handle it.

“It takes a long time but again everybody has been really great and on board with making sure we’re on the same page. So that we can run events safely and everybody feels welcome and safe when they come to sporting events.”

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After Firing, Upper Darby’s Rongione Sues Township Councilors, Seeks Damages

Vincent Rongione, whose status as the chief administrative officer of Upper Darby remains in legal limbo, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the members of the township council who voted in June to fire him. He is seeking damages of no less than $50,000.

The 19-page complaint (99 pages when including exhibits) was filed in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas on Friday. The filing seeks a jury trial and alleges that the six council members violated the commonwealth’s sunshine laws and conspired against Rongione, the top appointee in Mayor Barbarann Keffer’s (D) administration. Rongione’s lawsuit also names the entire governmental body of the town council as a defendant, in addition to singling out the group of six by name.

“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants [sic] actions, Mr. Rongione suffered and continues to suffer emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, harassment and the denial of his position as Chief Administrative Officer,” the complaint concludes. The filing also asserts that Rongione has “performed brilliantly” as the township’s CAO.

The bipartisan group of six on the township council voted for Rongione to forfeit his office at a council meeting on June 1, the culmination of a months-long battle over the township’s finances, in particular, questions over the roughly $20 million the township received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

Rongione and his attorney argue that the vote to fire him violated Pennsylvania’s sunshine laws, “because the stated purpose on the agenda did not provide the Township Council, the Township administration and members of the public with a clear understanding of what purpose and the known action item to be voted on.”

Despite the 6-5 vote by the council to relieve Rongione of his duties, he has continued to work while the members of the council are seeking a court order that would bar Rongione from continuing his duties or from entering township offices because of the forfeiture.

The group of six include Republican council members Lisa Faraglia, Meaghan Wagner, and Brian Andruszko. They are joined by Democrats Matt Silva, Council President Brian Burke, and Council Vice President Laura Wentz.

The other five Democrats on the town council have rallied behind Mayor Barbarann Keffer and Rongione after the conflict erupted in public at a council meeting in early February.

At that February meeting, Township Treasurer David David Haman (D) raised questions about the ARPA funds, saying that the end-of-month balances of some bank accounts had dropped below what would be expected. (By the nature of the township’s governance structure, the treasurer’s role is one more of oversight, and does not have direct access to the bank accounts).

Soon after, the group of six authorized an outside investigation into the ARPA funds and all the township’s finances. Keffer authorized her own third-party audit.

In mid-May, two weeks before the council voted to oust Rongione, Keffer released the results of the audit she commissioned, conducted by national accounting firm Marcum LLP.

“Marcum performed analyses of the actual bank balances of general fund bank accounts comparing them to the ARP funds from December 1, 2021 through February 7, 2022 and determined that the actual bank balances exceeded the ARP funds at all times,” the report said.

The group of six have cast doubt on this conclusion, saying that the investigation was incomplete because Marcum did not have access to all township accounts.

At the June 1 meeting, Councilwoman Wagner led the charge for Rongione’s dismissal, something Rongione highlighted in his complaint, but in doing so apparently incorrectly named Councilwoman Wentz.

Wagner laid out a theory that Rongione had moved monies in a “forfeiture” fund — an account the township shares in conjunction with the district attorney’s office that holds monies temporarily forfeited by persons who have been arrested and are still awaiting adjudication of their guilt or innocence.

“Wentz’s attack on Mr. Rongione was ghastly, ill-tempered and more importantly, according to the Township Solicitor Kilkenny’s office, stunningly wrong on the law.”

Democrat Councilmember Andrew Hayman agrees with Rongione that the vote to fire him violated the commonwealth’s sunshine laws, but also says the follow-up actions by the group of six have likely been illegal as well.

The decision by the group of six to seek a court order to remove Rongione “wasn’t even voted on in a public meeting,” Hayman said.

“Council is required to vote on litigation in a public meeting and that wasn’t done. It’s not on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting [Wednesday, July 6]. So it’s not something council could add on tonight either. I don’t know whose responsibility that is, whether that’s our council president, President Burke’s responsibility. But it is not on the agenda and was not on the agenda. And as such, I do not believe it is or was a legitimate, permissible action.”

Requests for comment emailed to all other members of the township council, Mayor Keffer, and Rongione were not returned.

Throughout most of the controversy, the group of six have maintained the investigation they sponsored will produce evidence that Rongione inappropriately moved township money without the necessary authorization from the council. The results of that investigation are expected this summer.

As for the legal action underway by the group of six, a conference is slated for Thursday before Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Spiros Angelos to initiate a determination whether council had the authority to deem Rongione’s office forfeited without the mayor’s approval.

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Three DelVal Communities Have Teen Curfews. Do They Work?

As Philadelphia appears to be on the threshold of imposing a new, more restrictive curfew on teens, criminal justice experts are raising questions about how well they work.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety gave its unanimous support to the proposal on Thursday to change its teen curfew from midnight to 10 p.m. However, the curfew does not include penalties for violators, and police are instructed to make every effort to return teens to their homes rather than take them into custody. If not, they are to be taken to one of two evening resource centers funded by the city council’s budget last year.

Youth curfews were once a ubiquitous tool for law enforcement to curtail rates of juvenile crime and victimization.

Criminal justice experts tell Delaware Valley Journal they’re being recycled again as options in cities like Philadelphia, which just changed its teen curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., to keep teens safe amid a wave of violence that swept the country in recent years.

“Things seem to go in cycles. So we went through a curfew cycle where they were the hottest ticket around. Everybody wanted a curfew,” said Kenneth Adams, a professor at the University of Central Florida who specializes in juvenile justice. “It kinda died down. It’ll come back.”

Politicians tend to rely on old tricks, the professor said. But the research is clear: By and large, curfews are ineffective and in some cases have the opposite intended effect, according to the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit that examined 12 studies on juvenile curfews.

“The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime — and close to zero for crime during all hours,” according to their 2016 study. “Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.”

Despite those findings, at least three municipalities in Delaware Valley – Springfield, Upper Darby, and Darby Borough – still have juvenile curfews on the books. And law enforcement officials in those towns remained convinced that they’re effective tools for cops to help ameliorate crime.

“The summer months are when you normally see more problems,” Timothy Bernhardt, superintendent of Upper Darby Police, told DVJ in an interview.

That is because youth have more freedom with school out and more hours of daylight.

Bernhardt did not have statistics available about the number of teens who were cited the past few years for violating curfew. But he acknowledged that his department hasn’t been inundated with those types of offenses.

In Springfield, with few exceptions, teens under 18 must be off the street between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m, Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 5 a.m., on Friday and Saturday, Lt. Joseph Sadoff, a department spokesman, told DVJ.

The ordinance has been on the books since at least 2002, according to the town’s website.

The curfew doesn’t apply to teens who are out after hours accompanied by parents or guardians. Or those working late or returning home from work.

Violators face up to a $1,000 fine, but Sadoff said police have discretion about whether to issue citations or warnings or arrange for the teen’s parents to pick them up.

The issue isn’t “prevalent” in Springfield either, Sadoff said, but the ordinance still “gives an officer a reason to stop a minor” who is out after dark.

“Typically, there’s some things they could be doing that’s legitimate. But there’s a lot that’s not,” he said. “So we kinda feel like, if you’re under 18, and you’re out, I’m not gonna say you’re up to no good, but it’s a reason to stop and talk to somebody.”

The police officials are not alone in their thinking.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson and her colleagues voted Thursday night to adopt the more stringent curfew, as part of a consent agenda approved without discussion.

Gilmore Richardson, the bill sponsor, previously defended the need for new regulations for the city’s youth, which came in reaction to a wild shootout on South Street that killed three and injured more than a dozen others.

Police said two of the gunmen who fired aimlessly into a crowd of innocent bystanders were 17 and 18 years old.

“No one is suffering more than our young people in the city of Philadelphia,” Gilmore Richardson was quoted by The Philadelphia Inquirer as saying at a hearing before the bill passed. “They are our children; they are our babies.”

Adams points out most juvenile crime is committed during normal business hours, between 3 and 6 p.m. when most kids, returning home from school, are unsupervised because their parents and guardians are still at work or just getting off. So, why do municipalities continue to impose them?

“You’re dealing with politics in the criminal justice system,” Adams explained. “It seems intuitive to people that it does work.”

Adams argues there are more effective strategies to curtail juvenile violence that engage youth rather than punish them, and he cites the 199os-era Midnight Basketball program.

“Kids are emotionally driven,” Adams said. “If you push the wrong button with kids, they respond negatively. Honey draws more flies than vinegar. You have to think a bit creatively. These kids just need a sympathetic ear.”

 

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Upper Darby Councilwoman Alleges Harassment Following Contentious Council Meeting

Upper Darby Councilwoman Meaghan Wagner filed a police report last Wednesday, alleging three people followed her from the Township Hall to her parked car, all the while shouting insults, slurs, and death wishes at the first-term council member.

Given that the three persons had reportedly just watched that evening’s council meeting, Wagner (R) believes the incident is evidence that passions and tempers continue to flare in the nearly six-month-long political battle between Mayor Barbarann Keffer (D) and a bipartisan group of council members who have launched an investigation into Keffer’s administration.

Broad + Liberty attempted to reach two of the three persons named in the report via Facebook Messenger. Because we can not be sure if the messages were received, and because no criminal charges have been filed as of yet, we are not naming the individuals in this report, and their names have been redacted in the police report provided to us by Wagner.

According to Wagner’s description in the police report, the cohort who followed her were two women and one man.

“Wagner further stated that (Person 2) yelled ‘I hope you die and get run over by a car’ while (Person 1) was yelling, ‘Die, die, die.’ Wagner was eventually able to get to her vehicle and leave the parking lot. Wagner appeared to be shaken up by this incident. This writer also spoke with Councilwoman [Lisa] Faraglia who confirmed Wagner’s details of these events,” the report said in conclusion.

Wagner declined to comment on whether any investigation beyond the police report was underway.

The council fired Keffer’s chief administrative officer, Vince Rongione, earlier this month. Rongione has continued to work, however.

At the council hearing last week, when Rongione joined the council meeting via Zoom, the council first voted to expel him. When he refused to leave, the council took care of a small number of items and then voted to adjourn the meeting early in protest.

Wagner says there were several other witnesses in addition to Faraglia, and that the harassment is the first of its kind, at least in her new position.

“I was sworn in January 3, 2022, and I can tell you that no, I have not been threatened as a council person. The only time I’ve ever really been threatened in my life was when I was a district attorney,” in the Delaware County district attorney’s office.

A month after Wagner and others were sworn in, the political imbroglio began.

At a council meeting in early February, township Treasurer David Haman (D) gave a presentation in which he examined the fund balances in several accounts, and concluded that some of the balances were lower than they should have been.

Mayor Keffer and Rongione said the report was incomplete and part of an “ambush.”

Since then, battle lines have hardened.

A bipartisan group of six on the council, three Democrats and three Republicans, approved a forensic examination of the township’s accounts, with a special focus on federal funds the township received from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

Keffer launched her own financial investigation conducted by national accounting firm Marcum LLP, and released the results last month. She and Rongione have touted the findings of that report, such as: “Despite numerous interviews, NO person reported or provided information alleging misuse of the ARPA proceeds.”

Additionally, a former finance director who left the township last year in good standing has said he has been cooperating as a witness with an investigation by the Delaware County District Attorney’s office that is related to the ongoing financial fight.

In early June, the group of six voted to fire Rongione, a move that’s being disputed and ignored by the Keffer administration. Rongione has continued to work while the group of six is striving for a court order that, if granted, would give legal backing to the vote to fire him, thereby terminating his official access to the township’s levers of power, including access to his office and email and the ability to sign checks.

The investigation authorized by the bipartisan group of six is still underway, with results expected this summer.

Through all of the investigations, the group of six have declined to authorize any further spending of the federal ARPA funds, something that has rankled Keffer, Rongione, and their supporters.

Faraglia said she’s relatively certain the alleged harassment was a result of the culminating political tensions.

“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s the financial investigation. It’s the hold up on the ARPA funds. It’s because we adjourned the meeting, because we terminated the CAO Vince Rongione,” she told Broad + Liberty. “It started inside our council meeting and escalated very badly, and then it continued outside. Um, I don’t think it’s safe anymore to even have residents at our meeting because of the way that they act.”

Wagner, meanwhile, said the incident will not deter her from her mission.

“I can tell you that I ran for this office because I care so much about Upper Darby Township and I did it for the betterment of Upper Darby Township, and that is always my intent,” she said.

“I feel that I should not be intimidated from doing that and from following through with my intent — and I will not be intimidated. I may have been very scared and uncomfortable that night, but I will not be intimidated from continuing my duties as a councilwoman.”

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Upper Darby Township Council Fires Mayor’s Top Administrative Officer in 6-5 Vote

A narrow majority of the Upper Darby Township Council late Wednesday night succeeded in ousting the mayor’s chief administrative officer, Vince Rongione. The extraordinary political move was the culmination a four-month battle over the township’s finances.

Councilwoman Meaghan Wagner, a Republican, made a motion for Rongione’s office to be “forfeited,” and was joined by two other Republicans and three Democrats in passing it, 6-5.

“Tonight, we sit here asking very basic questions about funds he should be aware of. He should be able to answer them without sarcasm, without dancing around the answer,” Wagner said in her leadup to the motion.

Wagner was joined by Council President Brian Burke (D), Council Vice President Laura Wentz (D), Councilman Matt Silva (D), Councilwoman Lisa Faraglia (R), and Councilman Brian Andruzko (R).

That bipartisan group of six had been pressing Mayor Barbarann Keffer’s administration over spending questions that first erupted in February.

At that time, Treasurer David Haman (D) gave a presentation saying he had examined several bank balances in the township’s control, leaving him with questions as to whether some recently received federal funds had been moved or spent without the town council’s approval.

Although Haman is the treasurer, the role is nominal and he has less direct day-to-day control over township accounts than Rongione and others in the executive branch.

Later in February, the same six who allied tonight to oust Rongione voted to initiate an investigation into all of the administration’s financial moves from about October 2021 to present. Mayor Keffer and Rongione countered by authorizing a separate, internal investigation.

What followed in the interim has been a political battle of accusations and jockeying between the two factions with more developments yet to come. Although the financial investigation authorized by Mayor Keffer has concluded, the probe launched by the council’s group of six is expected to conclude sometime this month.

On May 19, the national accounting firm, Marcum LLP, released its findings, concluding that, “At all times the general fund bank account balances exceeded $20.88 million,” a figure that the monies would have needed to have stayed above if the federal funds had not been moved or spent as alleged by the group of six.

Keffer, Rongione, and the other Democrats on the council have repeatedly pointed to the report to suggest the group of six have been off target with their accusations.

Members of the group of six, however, say the Marcum report was flawed because it did not have access to all of the township’s bank accounts. They have expressed confidence that the report they authorized will show the kind of mismanagement they have alleged.

About the same time the Marcum report was released, Rongione issued a press release saying the township’s solicitor had determined several councilors might have violated the township’s charter, and suggested removal from office was a possibility.

Prior to Wagner’s motion Wednesday night, council members questioned Rongione on a number of fronts.

Councilman Andruszko pressed Rongione about the 2021 budget, suggesting that the township may have been over budget that year by at least $1.7 million — or more.

“You’re conflating the revenue side of the budget and the expense side of the budget, and that’s a little bit — I don’t want to use a loaded term, but — that’s a little bit misleading for people who aren’t familiar with the budget process and the budget terms,” Rongione said to Andruszko.

“For now I can ask the question over and over again, if you don’t have anything else to say, so be it. That’s fine,” Andruszko said in his response. “The way I see it, we spent $1.7 million over budget.”

Silva probed Rongione over the kinds of information he gave to the Marcum investigators.

Wagner asked Rongione about different funds which have legal restrictions, such as an account that holds money temporarily forfeited by those accused of a crime. Rongione countered by saying those funds were not drawn down in any way, but had merely been moved because a decision had been reached to use a different bank.

One member of council predicted the fight is about to enter a new phase.

“I’ll be voting against this motion, but I will say: in a sick way, I’m glad that we’re doing it,” said Councilman Andrew Hayman, a Democrat. “I’d like to move on past this so this can go to court, which is where I’m assuming the CAO will win. But in the meantime, maybe we can move on to other matters.”

Rongione and Keffer did not respond to immediate requests for comment. If a comment is received from them later, this story will be updated.

However, Keffer later told the Delaware County Times that the process council used to oust Rongione was not legal.

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.

Claim: Upper Darby Financial Fight Is Under Investigation by DA

A former finance director for Upper Darby says the Delaware County district attorney’s office is investigating the ongoing financial fight in the township, in which a bipartisan group of township councilors have accused Democrat Mayor Barbarann Keffer’s administration of inappropriately transferring funds.

When contacted by Broad + Liberty about Wednesday’s township council meeting, Gary Merron (D) said, “I am witness in an ongoing investigation concerning this matter, and have been advised by law enforcement that I should not comment at this time.”

He later clarified that the law enforcement agency was the Delaware County DA’s office.

The district attorney’s office did not return a request seeking to verify Merron’s claim. Similarly, a request for comment to Mayor Keffer was not returned.

Merron resigned in September 2021 without controversy.

Merron’s claim comes in a week in which tensions continued to rise in the now three-months-long affair which has pitted Mayor Keffer and Chief Administrative Officer Vince Rongione, both Democrats, against six members of council — three Democrats and three Republicans.

The controversy first spilled into the public eye in February, after Upper Darby Treasurer David Haman (D) gave a presentation in which he said he was having difficulty tracking the township’s funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

While the number and kind of allegations has multiplied since that meeting, the core allegation at the time was that certain bank accounts that would have contained the township’s ARPA funds showed balances lower than they should have, raising questions about when and how monies were moved.

The group of six said they were having difficulty getting a full accounting from Keffer and Rongione, and two weeks later authorized an independent investigation by an outside firm.

Since then, the accusations and maneuverings have only multiplied.

Last Thursday, Mayor Keffer released the results of an audit from Marcum, LLP, that Keffer ordered in the wake of the accusations of the February meeting. The Marcum investigation ran independently of the one authorized by council.

“Despite numerous interviews, NO person reported or provided information alleging misuse of the ARPA proceeds,” reads a summary of the Marcum audit from the mayor, among other key findings.

Keffer also held a town hall with two of the Marcum auditors to answer questions, and live-streamed it on the township’s YouTube page.

Merron’s claim that he was speaking with a law enforcement agency was also noted in the Marcum report.

Council members and critics of the report say that the Marcum investigation only had access to a select number of township accounts — but not all — making the findings incomplete.

On Tuesday, Rongione issued a press release accusing the council of violating elements of the township’s home rule charter. According to the release, Keffer said the alleged violations had become, “flagrant, obvious, and damaging to our community[.]” She cited a legal analysis that said the violations could be remedied by removal from office.

Finally, at Wednesday’s council meeting, members of the group of six allied against the administration were clearly eager to begin pressing the administration for more answers in response to the Marcum report, but were stymied by legal technicalities.

From left: Mayor Keffer, Councilman Silva, Councilman Andruszko, Councilwoman Wentz. Front: Treasurer Haman

For example, when councilman Brian Andruszko (R) began to question Rongione about whether the township had gone over budget in 2021, the assistant township solicitor recommended that the discussion was out of bounds because it did not hold strictly to the title of the agenda item, “Discussion regarding ARPA funds.” Council President Brian Burke (D) accepted the recommendation and stopped discussion.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the group of six passed a motion to appoint an accounting firm to wrap up the separate investigation they approved at about the same time Keffer authorized the Marcum audit.

Merron’s name appears more than 100 times in the Marcum report. Haman says most of the questionable activity came after Merron left office.

The duties of a treasurer can vary widely across the many governments in Pennsylvania. In Upper Darby, the treasurer has very little authority over the many accounts in the township’s name. Haman says his role is mainly one of oversight.

Haman also says he is working independently to formulate his own official response to the Marcum report. That report would be separate from the investigation still ongoing from council.

All the while, the township has not allocated any of the ARPA funds to any projects. Keffer and Rongione have argued the Marcum report has provided enough clarity to allow some funding to begin. The clutch of six councilors, however, have said a completely transparent understanding of the money must be in hand before project funding can begin.

This article previously ran in Broad and Liberty.

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.

FLOWERS: Riding the Market Frankford El, From Magical To Monstrous

I’ve been riding the Market Frankford El for more than half a century. I was about four the first time I got on at 52nd Street with my grandmother, and we rode into the city to go to Wanamaker’s (after an initial round of shopping along the old 52nd Street commercial strip.) It was magical, gliding high above the city, watching the rooftops fly by, and seeing the ant-sized figures milling around below. I will never forget those first impressions of the El or the excitement of those rides in the 1960s with Mamie Fusco.

Later on, I started traveling alone, whether it be to work in Center City, weekend forays to the museums, shops, and restaurants, or simply to take long walks by the river drives (which in those days were called “East” and “West.”)  It never occurred to me to be afraid. The El was my friend, I who didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 40 and broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of navigating city streets behind a wheel I controlled.

I can’t exactly put my finger on the moment that changed, when fear crept into my experience. I don’t think it was a specific incident because it evolved over a period of time. One day I paid my fare and stepped into the car at 69th Street headed east and felt an unusual, uncommon, and very unwelcome sense of discomfort.

And now, I can put actual events to those intangible feelings.  I’ve personally been assaulted on the El in the past few years, usually just with verbal epithets or threats from people who looked to be stoned, intoxicated, or mentally disturbed. My solution was to move to another car as quickly as possible.

More recently, I was punched in the back of the head by someone who looked to be about 13, wearing the sweatshirt of a local school. And the adult who was traveling with the child, who could have been a girl or a boy since most of the face was covered by a mask “for safety” (irony abounds) actually got up to defend him/her when I picked up my phone to call 911. Then, the kid knocked the phone out of my hand. And that adult?  He lunged at me, mouth filled with foam (I’d say he was a rabid animal but it was likely just spitting). I was able to get off at 40th Street before he hit me.

A few months before that, I was pushed and kicked by another youngster, this one clearly under the influence of drugs. Both incidents occurred in the middle of the day, with other people on the train cars.  A few tried to intervene, but most kept their faces buried in their phones. I suppose they thought that if you don’t look up, real life isn’t happening.

To be quite honest, I’ve been very lucky to have only had these random incidents of low-level violence happen to me, given the fact that I’ve been riding the rails for over a half-century.  Tragically, others haven’t been as lucky.

The day after I was punched by that young thug, a woman was raped on that same route. It started in the city and continued all the way through to the 69th Street terminus when police finally got on to stop the crime. The true crime, other than the horrific sexual violation, is that the security cameras showed people on the El who did nothing. Nothing. 

They didn’t call 911. They didn’t intervene. I thought perhaps they might not have known what was happening, but there’s no question that they did.  You couldn’t miss it.

Finally, a SEPTA employee called the police, who as I said were waiting when the train came to a stop.

This is an urban outrage that is no longer uncommon. The violence of the streets has entered into the train cars and bled into the lives of people who, like me, need to use public transportation to manage their day. I suppose we could all buy cars, or we could all wait hours for a bus to come and drop us off at a location miles away from our destinations, or we could Uber everywhere. Those among us swimming in money and affluence can hire a driver.

But for the rest of us, the price of a weekly Key card is a luxury we can barely afford but will purchase because we need mobility.  The fact that we take our lives into our hands for that mobility is an obscenity.

There have been shootouts at train stations filled with people in the middle of the day.  There have been deaths.  There have been long rides when you look in the faces of the strangers seated across from you and wonder which one of them is going to hurt you, slash you with a knife, expose himself to you (that’s happened to me as well), or in the best-case scenario, “only” steal your wallet. This is daily life on SEPTA, and this is the world created for us by DA Larry Krasner who allows criminals to slip underground, into the bowels of the trains and prey on the defenseless commuter.

We could vote Krasner out of office, which I hope we do. But that won’t completely solve the problem.

We can put more police into the cars, which I also hope we do. But that won’t solve the problem, either.

The lesson of this latest rape on the Market-Frankford Line is that we need to create a society where criminals, addicts, and sociopaths don’t have easy access to the rest of us. That’s a lot harder and takes common sense, people who aren’t afraid to be called racist or bigoted or uncaring, and I don’t think I’ll be riding the rails long enough to see it happen.