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Upper Darby’s Earned Income Tax off the Table–for Now

Upper Darby taxpayers may have dodged a bullet.

Lame duck Mayor Barbarann Keffer, a Democrat, had proposed the township adopt a 1 percent earned income tax (EIT), bringing dozens of unhappy residents to meetings to complain. They opposed a tax increase amid inflation and other economic woes.

A vote on the EIT was scheduled for Nov. 29. But Keffer failed to properly introduce the ordinance, so it was postponed. Perhaps, indefinitely, said Republican Council President Brian Burke. He believes Keffer does not have the votes she needs to pass it.

“There’s nothing good about it,” said Burke, about the possible new tax.

Council also drafted a revised budget discussed on Nov. 29 that will be on the agenda on Dec. 6, he said. That $88,717,242 general fund budget includes money for nine new police officers, a key item Keffer wanted to fund through the EIT.

Keffer did not respond to DVJournal’s question about whether she planned to try to get the EIT through the council in the last month of her administration.

A Drexel Hill resident told the council at the Nov. 15 meeting that the EIT is a bad idea.

“The financial burden on residents, we have Bidenomics going on, high inflation, and we suddenly might enter World War III,” he said. “Adding an extra tax like this will make it a lot worse. A lot of my fellow residents are living paycheck to paycheck.”

A woman said, “I wholeheartedly oppose the tax.”

The audience applauded another woman when she said, “Do something about crime. Don’t keep asking us for more money.”

John DeMasi, a resident, said the EIT would hit residents making $15, $16, or $17 an hour the hardest. He said rent is up “double digits,” and credit card interest rates have climbed 6 or 7 percent.

“They’re not just getting a raise because all of these things are going up,” said DeMasi. “And you are going into their wallet and saying, ‘Give us 1 percent more.’”

He added, “It’s going to affect me and my family, yes. Are we looking to move? Yes. Do we have that ability? Yes.” But many residents can’t afford to move, he said.

“I strongly encourage you to find other ways to cut… We have seen disastrous spending,” said DeMasi. “The only person getting rich by default is the solicitor.”

Making her case for the new tax, Keffer said, “The EIT is part of a multi-pronged financial strategy to secure the future of Upper Darby, which includes the implementation of the realty transfer tax two years ago, the inclusion of third parties to manage delinquent taxes and fees and the business privilege tax as well as a stronger project and purchase bidding process which has resulted in higher revenues and lower costs over the last four years.”

The EIT would generate $9 million in new revenue in the first year.

She said property taxes would be frozen for 2024; seniors on fixed incomes would not pay it, and it would spread the cost of services more evenly. Funding for five new police officers and pension and retiree health care costs would be included.

Revenue that now goes to other towns with the EIT would return to Upper Darby. A state Department of Community and Economic Development report recommended the EIT.

The EIT does not apply to interest earnings, dividends, Social Security, capital gains, lottery winnings, unemployment, third-party sick pay, insurance proceeds, gifts, bequests, inheritances, and active military duty pay.

Council Vice President Hafiz Tunis supported the EIT.

“The 1 percent Earned Income Tax will put our township in a stronger financial position. With the EIT, we can take the burden off our seniors, invest more funds in our police department, and bring back revenue to our community that has been invested in other communities for decades. I would like to applaud the Keffer administration for this proposal,” he said.

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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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TRACY: Upper Darby Stands on the Precipice of Financial Armageddon

This column first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

The phrase “perfect storm” is frequently overused, but in the case of Upper Darby Township, it’s completely accurate.

New tax increases for the municipal government and school district are imminent due to questionable spending by both authorities. When you combine these tax increases with irresponsible, unfunded spending at the county level, the already overtaxed residents of Upper Darby are about to pick up the tab for the gross negligence of their administration.

I ask that you indulge me and permit me to set the stage here with some history.

I served as chairman of Upper Darby’s township economic development organization from 2018–2020. Appointed by Mayor Thomas Miccozzie and approved by the council, my committee was charged with assessing the relative economic competitiveness of the commonwealth’s sixth-largest municipality and advising the administration on steps it could take to strengthen the local economy and the municipal government’s overall fiscal position.

My analysis in 2018 was simple: Upper Darby residents are victims of both Pennsylvania’s unfair, archaic, and balkanized system of local taxation and a completely irrational tax structure in neighboring Philadelphia that chases out private capital and exacerbates poverty in the nation’s poorest big city. Proponents of the city wage tax and its defenders in Harrisburg have, over time, created a system that punishes the vulnerable, promotes the flight of families and businesses, and widens the economic gap between the rich and poor.

These compounding forces create a dynamic where Upper Darby families and businesses are incentivized to flee to environs where real estate taxes represent a smaller percentage of the value of their homes and where real estate values are less likely to decline due to excessive tax burdens that consume the home equity of working families.

My conclusion was equally simple: Though the town faced major structural challenges, a death spiral could be avoided with the right mix of policy leadership, strong fiscal management, and community engagement. However, two things had to happen.

First, we had to grow our way out of the problem by attracting new businesses and private investment. This would create economic opportunities for residents and allow the government to shift some of the local tax burden away from working families. Developing the 69th Street commercial corridor, the Drexeline Town Center, and the township’s various local business districts were essential to success.

Second, we needed to work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development so they would better understand the structural challenges that undermined urban, working-class municipalities like Upper Darby all across Pennsylvania. Their partnership could mean access to the sort of state subsidies, such as Keystone Opportunity Zones, that rejuvenated many struggling neighborhoods in the city.

As a result, Upper Darby became the first municipality in the commonwealth to enter the state’s Strategic Township Management program in 2019. We were provided a grant to develop an economic development strategy to not just stave off disaster but also reimagine the local economy. The work had the full support of the Micozzie Administration and a large majority of the town council, but the support was not unanimous.

Then-Councilwoman Barabrann Keffer dismissed the plan as a distraction at a public hearing and refused to support it. She would go on to be elected mayor later in 2019, and a few months into her term, she dismantled the committee entirely and the township’s engagement with the Strategic Township Management Program. The Drexeline Town Center project was stalled. In 2020’s summer of rage, riots decimated the 69th Street commercial corridor. And the new administration repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in managing its fiscal affairs, including the mishandling of federal funds that led to the resignation of Keffer’s chief administrator.

Perhaps Mayor Keffer regrets that decision today.

Four years later, on Sept. 20, 2023, Mayor Keffer called a town hall to inform the Upper Darby Township residents that the administration had entered the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Strategic Township Management Program. They had received a grant to work with a consultant to assess the township’s local economy and financial position. The consultant’s findings were dire: the administration failed to conduct the proper audits and misspent funds, diminishing its capacity to borrow. Years of poor fiscal management and declining revenues will yield structural deficits for the foreseeable future unless new, regressive taxes are thrust upon residents, many of whom are struggling to afford the current tax burden.

Go figure.

The administration’s presentation was unsettling for several reasons. First, as I have outlined above, despite the obvious challenges, this predicament was entirely avoidable. Second, close observers of Delaware County politics from both sides of the aisle quietly admit that the administration has been a disaster in every sense of the word. Third, and most importantly, it was what the presentation did not say that was most unsettling. The administration’s analysis failed to account for how the other taxing authorities were managing their affairs, which is no small matter. In short, the town is indisputably on the precipice of financial Armageddon.

The median household income in Upper Darby is $62,500 and the median value of an owner-occupied home is $207,500 (according to The owner of the house is obligated to pay real estate taxes to three government entities: the township, school district, and county. The total taxes currently levied by those three entities is 42.1414 mills. A median-priced house is taxed $8,744 annually, which is equal to fourteen percent of the median household income. Homeowners are reaching the breaking point. Add insurance, repairs, utilities, and home ownership, and it is becoming close to unaffordable for a working-class family, as it has been for seniors on fixed incomes for some time.

Things have been difficult for homeowners in Upper Darby, but they are about to get considerably worse.

The school district passed its most recent budget using $20 million in money given to the district by the federal government to help with expenses incurred because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The problem is the money was largely used to add recurring costs, such as personnel. There will be no $20 million from the federal government in next year’s budget, so the district is confronted with a $20 million structural deficit. Guess where they are most likely to go to get that money? Even with the $20 million in federal funds, the district still needed a tax increase and money from its “rainy day” fund to balance its budget this year.

In addition, the district has decided to double its current debt load and build a new school costing at least $100M. In order to build it, they will need to issue bonds; the annual cost of those bonds will be $7M. The district will no doubt have inflation adjustments of several million to the next budget in addition to the bonds and the unfunded deficit. If we add all these up, there is a likely need for more than a $30M increase in school taxes.

Of course, they could cancel the new school and lay off a significant number of employees. They could, but probably cannot or will not. If my worst case comes true, the district could find it must raise taxes by six mills or more — that’s $1,200 on the median home.

This brings us back to the township. According to its presentation, the municipal government is basically bankrupt. The township deficit will be $11M within eighteen months. The causes of the condition are complex but certainly include a large dose of mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance.

For instance, more than a million and a half dollars went to lawyers, including a Montgomery County lawyer who happens to be, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the largest contributors to local Democrats. That number is higher than the entire county government spent on outside legal fees in 2019, the last year of GOP control.

You might ask, are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing parking fees the only example of official legerdemain? Further, do you feel safer in Upper Darby today than in 2019? Given that the number of homicides has more than tripled under this administration’s watch, spending a bit more on police and a bit less on lawyers seems like a good idea.

By the way, the argument that the township lost any meaningful amount of revenue during the pandemic is preposterous given its tax structure. Local real estate taxes represent the vast majority of total revenue. During the Covid lockdowns, the federal government made mortgage payments, inclusive of property taxes, for those who could not, while the township government itself operated at reduced capacity (e.g. cost). The pandemic cannot be blamed for this problem with a straight face.

If we add the $11M the township needs to the $30M the school district needs we are up to a $41M structural deficit. But WAIT! It does not end there!

Our betters in Media will also need more of Upper Darby residents’ hard-earned dollars; after all, they know so much better how to spend it. The County Council has already acknowledged publicly that they will need to seek “new revenues.” If our estimates at Broad + Liberty are correct, their forthcoming $60M structural deficit will add approximately $5M to Upper Darby’s real estate tax burden.

Let’s sum this up: $30M (Upper Darby School District) + $11M (Upper Darby Township) + $5M (Delaware County) equals a $46M structural deficit. The additional ten mills required to cover this deficit will mean Upper Darby’s relative tax burden will be 32 percent higher than Swarthmore (35 mills), 61 percent higher than Media (20 mills), 63 percent higher than Radnor (19 mills), and an eye-popping 69 percent higher than Newtown Township (16 mills). Where are the local progressives demanding the affluent pay their fair share? Well, by and large, they live in those towns. Meanwhile, in Upper Darby, the owner of the average home will pay an additional $2,000 in local taxes.

Plus, the administration has proposed levying a new earned income tax, which it intends to split with the school district. A policy that will undoubtedly drive income earners to flee to nearby Haverford, Springfield, and Marple Townships in droves. Its yield to the government is likely to be a fraction of current estimates.

I welcome those running the township, school district, and county to challenge my numbers. I hope, for the good of the town, they will prove me wrong.

I suspect they will not, because they cannot.

Whether by evil genius or complete incompetence, those responsible for being good stewards of our tax dollars have failed the residents of Upper Darby miserably and, given the state of the schools, streets, and parks, have precious little to show for it. Luckily most have yards big enough for a garden — that’s if they want to eat.

Upper Darby’s Top Parking Cop Took Thousands in Coins, DA Says

You might call it a crime of opportunity. Or an overwhelming temptation.

In any case, Sekela Coles, the now-suspended Upper Darby parking director, is charged with theft, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and related charges for allegedly raiding the money in the township’s new parking kiosks and keeping it for her own uses, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said at a press conference Monday.

Stollsteimer said that she allegedly took more than $4,314 but began to return the money once she realized that the thefts might be discovered.

“We call that…consciousness of guilt,” said Stollsteimer.

Stollsteimer said  Coles talked to detectives and admitted to the scheme where she had her assistant divert bags of money from the kiosks to a bank not used by the township to be counted and turned into cash.

“She has literally admitted to county detectives she stole coins from parking kiosks,” said Stollsteimer. He said Upper Darby gets about $1 million a year from its parking meters, kiosks, and tickets.

Stollsteimer said that one bag was so heavy with coins that the assistant, Nikita Barnes, had to ask her husband to help her carry it.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and Deputy for Special Investigations Douglas Rhodes at Monday’s press conference.

The couple are cooperating witnesses and are not being charged, he noted.

Stollsteimer attributed another issue–that of more than 18,000 parking tickets that were not turned over to the courts–to incompetence rather than criminality.

“This incompetency is what led to the investigation, which turned into a criminal investigation,” said Stollsteimer. But he did not believe he would be filing charges for failing to turn over the tickets for prosecution.

“There is no criminality here. Incompetence itself is not criminal,” he said.

Beth Stefanides, the Republican running against Stollsteimer this November, said the DA’s slow-walking of the case is a reason for voters to make a change.

“The lack of haste with which this manner has been handled speaks to the chaos and sheer lack of leadership occurring in our county’s legal system. County DA Jack Stollsteimer finally spoke publicly about this issue for the first time today – more than seven months since this issue has been going on – and, conveniently for DA Stollsteimer, just in time for the fall election.

“Delco deserves a leader who will speak up and take action when duty demands it – not just when it is electorally advantageous,” Stefanides added. “DA Stollsteimer is months late in addressing this issue. While he spent January through July in silence to protect Upper Darby, Democratic leadership, residents were left without due process, fairness, and justice.

“That’s wrong. I will take pride in actively leading and improving our county legal system so incidents like this never occur again.”

Coles, a former Upper Darby councilwoman, was put in charge of the parking enforcement bureau in 2020 when Mayor Barbarann Keffer, a Democrat, came into office. Keffer declined to comment.

Coles’ arrest followed months of turmoil in Upper Darby, with former chief administrative officer Vince Rongione resigning after the council fired him amid questions about the use of ARPA funds. And Keffer is not running for re-election after her arrest for DUI.

Stollsteimer said people who wanted to contest their tickets never got anything in the mail. After a township audit, officials rushed to send tickets to the courts, but he explained that most would be moot because there was only a 30-day window. So Upper Darby didn’t get parking ticket money for nearly two years.

Coles added the kiosks, Stollsteimer said. And he said that traditional parking meters make it hard to divert the coins, but the kiosks made it easy.

Almost from the moment the kiosks were implemented in November 2021, he said she began a scheme to steal what was in those machines. He said Coles used some of the money to treat her employees to gifts, parties, and lunches.

“At some point, she realized they were taking too much money,” said Stollsteimer. “It was going to potentially be discovered by the tax office. So, she had Ms. Barnes begin to repay some of the money to cover up the crime.”

Coles is also accused of obstruction of justice because she allegedly went into the township’s computer system and deleted eight tickets for family members so they would not have to pay them, said Stollsteimer.

He said Coles is also charged with official oppression because rental cars were charged $98 for parking tickets but $35 was the maximum amount. The probable cause statement noted Coles believed rental companies would pay additional money.

He said the investigation began last fall after officials learned about the parking tickets not being turned over to the courts. The mishandled coin issue came to light through that initial investigation.

Asked by DVJournal what penalty Coles is facing, Stollsteimer said he did not know but added the charges were felonies. DVJournal also asked him how much bail he would be requesting after Coles turns herself in and appears in court; Stollsteimer again could not say but added it was a “white collar crime,” and she is “not a flight risk.”

“All of us working in government have a sacred trust to act in the best interest of our communities. The defendant was entrusted with one of the basic functions of government –collecting parking meter money and depositing the cash,” Stollsteimer said. “However, rather than acting in the best interest of the citizens of Upper Darby, the defendant is alleged to have taken a portion of the parking meter cash and used it for the purchase of food, birthday cakes, office parties, and restaurant trips for the defendant and her staff. This kind of behavior erodes public trust and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

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Sources Claim Upper Darby’s Parking Problems Put Township at Risk, Cash-Handling Procedures Questioned

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

For several months across 2021 and 2022, the director of parking enforcement in Upper Darby broke with longstanding procedures of depositing coins directly through Brinks Security, and instead opted to take coins collected at kiosks to be counted at a bank that the township does not currently do business with, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Sources said the director, Dr. Sekela M. Coles, had coins collected at parking kiosks given to a particular staffer in the parking department who then would take them to the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union, where the coins were presumably deposited into an account or converted into some kind of instrument like a cashier’s check.

Broad + Liberty does not currently have any evidence that any money went missing or is unaccounted for. But one upshot, according to a source, is that the new procedure greatly weakened previous accountability and chain-of-custody structures meant to provide maximum security while curbing losses.

All coin monies are normally put through a coin counter owned by the township, one source explained. That counting machine put the coins into Brinks bags which are securely closed, and then transferred to Brinks once a week.

Instead, with the alternate method, coins collected at kiosks were taken to the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union to be counted, and the specific Upper Darby employee would go back to Coles with some kind of documentation showing how much was collected or counted.

The sources said this information was passed on to the office of Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer months ago. To date, no charges of any kind have been filed. Within the Upper Darby township’s purview, no person appears to have been disciplined for any improper conduct.

Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer, who is not seeking re-election this November in the wake of a DUI scandal, did not directly address questions on the parking procedures.

“My administration constantly evaluates each and every department to seek any necessary improvements to internal controls, policies, financial reporting systems, as well as other municipal functions,” Keffer said in a response to questions. “I believe it would be irresponsible for me to comment on internal reviews or to answer speculative questions on these matters.”

Coles said she could not properly address the above allegations given the deadline imposed by Broad + Liberty for comment. This outlet emailed and called Coles shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, asking for comment to be provided by 3 p.m.

She also intimated she was considering legal action.

“Be advised any article mentioning my name, allegations against me, and my business reputation are defamatory per se,” she said. “All rights and remedies available to me legally under Pennsylvania law will be pursued against you individually and your media outlet. I have forwarded a courtesy copy of your communication to my attorney.”

A request for comment to the district attorney’s office was not returned.

Problems with the township’s parking enforcement first came to light in January 2023 after CBS3 investigative reporter Joe Holden revealed thousands of parking tickets in Upper Darby had not been properly routed through local courts.

The township council authorized the audit of the parking department just one day after the Holden report, but a complete version of that audit has not yet been provided to the township government.

In early May, Broad + Liberty reported that some members of township council were having a hard time getting straight answers from Mayor Keffer’s administration, and were pressing for a full copy of the audit, which was months late by that time.

On June 1, Holden broke another report detailing elements of a preliminary audit that had been provided to township officials, but was not made available to the public. This report alleged serious mismanagement, including “a lack of communication at the township, a lack of oversight and a lack of internal controls and procedures,” according to Holden.

Whether the audit is complete is still unknown. Although some news outlets have quoted portions of the report, it has never been fully released to the public through official channels.

At a council meeting on May 24, solicitor Colleen Marsini acknowledged that part of the audit had been routed to the district attorney’s office.

“It was completed by Brinker Simpson and Donna Stillwell, part one,” Marsini began, referring to the auditors. “There was a part two, a supplement, that was submitted to the district attorney’s office. When that is returned, she [Keffer] then will be authorized to release the whole report.”

The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making.

In response to a Holden inquiry on June 1, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer acknowledged his office was looking into matters.

“We take all of these allegations seriously,” Stollsteimer said in the CBS report. “We are going to do investigations and if we, if charges are meant to be brought, we will bring them.”

When the audit was initially authorized by the township council, the routine of taking the kiosk coins to the Police and Fire Federal Credit union was suddenly halted, sources also said.

Thousands of persons who were ticketed in the township may not have had the opportunity to challenge the fines in front of a judge. An Upper Darby resident filed a class action lawsuit in April because of those due process issues.

Despite the numerous allegations of incompetent governance, Coles nevertheless claims her time as parking director has been an unmitigated success.

“Sekela Mungai Coles within her first year was able to transform the Upper Darby Parking Enforcement Department. Under her direction, the department’s systems have been modernized,” her bio on the township website says.

“Coles streamlined the parking payment processes, allowing residents to pay for parking through a safe, user-friendly app as opposed to only meters, as well as take online payment methods when paying parking fines and reserving municipal parking lot spaces,” the bio continues. It also mentions she oversaw the implementation of the first parking kiosks in the township in 2021.

Coles was also an elected member of the township council from 2014–20, according to her bio on the township website. She also challenged incumbent Democratic state House member Margo Davidson for her 164th district seat in 2016, but was unsuccessful.

Another report on the parking audit, this one by Delaware Valley Journal, quoted the audit at greater length.

“Before January 2021, there were no issues with unpaid parking tickets filed with the (courts),” the Delaware Valley Journal report noted in quoting the audit directly. “The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making. Our analysis indicates the township lacked the project management procedures and internal controls to prevent the breakdown that occurred as it related to the unpaid parking tickets and the failure of Upper Darby to timely submit the citations to the (courts)… The transition from the old system to the new system was not successful.”

“The internal controls in the Parking Department are currently unsatisfactory to safeguard township assets, and we are making recommendations to clearly define levels of responsibilities through documented procedures and financial oversight,” the audit also said, according to DVJ.


Confidential Audit Details Upper Darby Mistakes That Led to Unpaid Parking Ticket Fiasco

The Delaware Valley Journal obtained a copy of a confidential audit of the Upper Darby parking ticket scandal that resulted in a class action lawsuit lodged against the township.

The audit, really more of a report by the accounting firm Brinker Simpson, does not include some of the information that most people would like to know, such as exactly how many parking tickets did not reach the courts and how much money did the township fail to collect as a result.

Instead, it details how employees failed to send the tickets to the courts after a software change and that there appeared to be no oversight from the township administration under Mayor Barbarann Keffer.  Keffer did not respond to voicemail or email requests for comments on Wednesday.

“Before January 2021, there were no issues with unpaid parking tickets filed with the (courts),” the report said. “The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making. Our analysis indicates the township lacked the project management procedures and internal controls to prevent the breakdown that occurred as it related to the unpaid parking tickets and the failure of Upper Darby to timely submit the citations to the (courts)…the transition from the old system to the new system was not successful.”

The audit said, “The internal controls in the Parking Department are currently unsatisfactory to safeguard township assets, and we are making recommendations to clearly define levels of responsibilities through documented procedures and financial oversight.”

Also, “we were not able to identify a project manager or project team responsible for implementation of a strategic plan a schedule or oversight to ensure new software would have the functionality, integration and technical support needed….”

The audit said the township had two IT consultants who reported to two different managers.

In January 2020, the parking director was appointed as director of parking enforcement, and the audit said her emails were not forwarded. Also, the new program, Passport, did not have a direct interface with the courts, and it still doesn’t, the audit said.

And the parking department did not follow the court-required process of ensuring ticket batches were received.   The last files the courts received were in April 2021, until those sent in 2023.

In May 2022, Keffer and her administrative officer took steps to make parking violations civil rather than criminal issues.

The audit said that from 2016 to 2020, revenue from parking meter fines increased by $207,075. Parking lot revenue and district court fines decreased by $73,000 but included licenses and inspections.

In 2022, citation revenue increased by $130,000 to $599,433.

“Our findings suggest that a lack of communication and centralized oversight, restrictive access to IT support, and lack of internal controls and documented procedures led to the failure of parking tickets being filed timely with the state,” the audit said. “Evidence suggests that there was not a clear understanding of the complexities of the administration of the department that relied on consistent communication with (the courts), police, and IT, especially when adding new software.”

Constable Jack Kelly asked DA Jack Stollsteimer to investigate the parking ticket mess. Kelly said there are 15,000 to 22,000 unpaid parking tickets docketed most years.

“They bypassed the process and never sent anything to the courts,” he said. And people who did not their tickets paid never received their court summonses.

And then some cars got “booted,” he said.

“What gives you the right to boot somebody who has not been before  a judge?” Kelly asked.

Former Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie blamed Keffer for firing all the people who knew how the township was run immediately after taking office.

“That’s a problem,” said Micozzie. “A serious problem. How can you run a $98 million corporation (the township) with 427 employees? I get you’re entitled to your own administration, which really means your CAO…But then you get into firing the L&I, the finance director…I would not have had him out on the first day, in the middle of budget.”

Council President Brian Burke said a court clerk reported the township suddenly sent 18,000 unpaid tickets through. At $35 a ticket, that would be $630,000 in revenue uncollected, not to mention additional penalties.

“I believe there’s a lot of problems,” he said. During a council meeting, Burke pressed solicitor Sean Kilkenny about why the township did not respond proactively to a Feb. 7 letter from the court about the missing parking tickets, Broad + Liberty reported. The Delaware County Court administrator then sent another letter about the tickets on May 1.

Vince Rangione, who had been the township’s chief administrative officer, left office in January after months of controversy and secured a severance deal from the township that allowed him to keep his salary through July 31 and health benefits until the end of the year.

The confidential report includes his memos to staff telling them they could not ask the IT people for help without permission.

“No employee is to contact (the person) directly unless authorized by Scott (Alberts),” Rangione wrote in that memo. Alberts is the director of administrative services.

Burke, who switched from Democrat to Republican and is running for mayor, believes he can do a better job.  Keffer, who was arrested for DUI and spent time in rehab, is not running again.  Democrat Edward Brown, the current school board president, will face off against Burke this fall.

“There’s nothing confidential about (the audit),” Micozzie added. “A lot of people are pushing for it. They want to see the audit.”

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Upper Darby GOP Taps Brian Burke for Mayor Bid

The Upper Darby Republicans held a press conference on the township building steps Monday to announce Brian Burke as their candidate for mayor. Burke, now president of the Upper Darby Council, changed parties in March to run as a Republican.

Frank Agovino, Delaware County GOP chair, said Burke would work with other GOP team members for “commonsense principals” to bring fiscal stability and safe streets.

“Under dysfunctional Democratic rule, we’re on the verge of losing everything that is dear to us,” Agovino added. “Brian has stepped forward and will fight for a brighter future for us.”

Burke announced his party switch and candidacy following Mayor Barbarann Keffer, a Democrat, saying she would not run again after being charged with a DUI and going into rehab.

Burke said he loves Upper Darby and enjoys serving it.

“After four years of mismanagement and dysfunction by the mayor and her administration, a change is urgently needed,” Burke said. “As president of council, I’ve had a front-row seat of the administration’s mismanagement of basic operations and finance. I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by the administration’s hyper-partisan, overly political bunker mentality.”

For example, “Our police department has worked years without the contract they deserved, making daily sacrifices while politicians in the building made backroom deals for their own benefit,” said Burke. “After four years, we are less safe, less prosperous, and more unstable than at any time in our history. Politics is toxic. This administration has failed. Their constant drama is played out daily in the local press. Why else would a mayor decide not to seek re-election? Successful mayors are re-elected.

“And by the way, if you think the proposed alternative would be any better, just look at the current state of the Upper Darby School District. Again, less safe, less prosperous, and more unstable than at any time in its history.”

Burke referred to the endorsed Democratic candidate for mayor, Edward Brown, now serving as the Upper Darby School Board president.

Former councilman Tom Wagner also spoke.

“We now have a situation in this township; according to widespread news reports, some 18,000 parking tickets have been languishing in this building,” said Wagner. “Not being processed and sent to the courts where they belong, in danger of expiring. The town council has called for an audit of that situation.” But heard nothing for “weeks and weeks.”

“We need a change in the mayor’s office,” Wagner continued. “And we’ve got that change ready to go.” Burke is not interested in politics but interested in working “to get things done for Upper Darby,” Wagner claimed.

Burke has served on Upper Darby Council since 2019 when he was elected as a Democrat to an at-large seat. He has served as president of the township council since January 2022. Burke is a State Local 420 Steamfitter and previously served on the St. Dorothy’s Athletic Association board. He currently serves as vice president of the Aronimink Swim Club. He lives in Upper Darby with his wife and three kids.

Council Vice President Laura Wentz is also running for mayor as an unendorsed Democrat. She is running with a slate of two other unendorsed Democrats called “Democratic Candidates for Change in Upper Darby.”

Those candidates are Alfred E Means II for the 4th District Council seat and Jennifer Howell for Upper Darby School Board.

The primary is May 16. The last day to register to vote is May 1.

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Upper Darby Council President Changes Party to Run for Mayor

Upper Darby Council President Brian Burke is running for mayor—as a Republican.

The former Democrat said that he is disappointed with the direction of the township administration, township finances, and the overall management of Upper Darby.

Burke told DVJournal that he is mainly concerned with the sweetheart deal former township manager Vince Rongione received when he left, believing it to be illegal. And Burke is also dismayed by the parking ticket scandal, where some 18,000 tickets remain unpaid, among other issues.

“This administration has mismanaged the operations and finances of Upper Darby government, including putting many people in leadership positions who do not possess the necessary qualifications and experience to lead the state’s 6th largest municipality,” said Burke. “The mismanagement has led Upper Darby to a critical crossroads. On one road, we continue down the path that this failed administration has led us, which will likely bring Upper Darby to financial ruin and continued dysfunction.

Council President Brian Burke

“Down the other road, we (can) create a thriving Upper Darby, where neighborhood businesses thrive, our schools bring out the best in our kids, and we feel safe no matter the time of day. That is the road I choose, and I am asking the citizens of Upper Darby to join me and support me down that road,” he said.

Burke added, “I decided to switch my registration from Democrat to Republican after watching in disbelief how the leaders of the Upper Darby Democratic Party have repeatedly endorsed the mismanagement and dysfunction of Mayor Keffer and her administration,” said Burke. “They have put blind allegiance to a political party’s interests, such as patronage and doling out lucrative township contracts at great expense to the taxpayer, ahead of our best interests.

“As president of council, I have a proven record of working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle who want to work for the common good of our township and residents, not for the interests of political party leaders. If elected Mayor, I pledge to put in place a bipartisan administration, a coalition government, that is staffed by highly qualified individuals who have one goal, to get our hometown back on the right track. Because it is going to take all of us to Save Upper Darby,” he said.

Keffer, the current mayor who has been away at rehab after being arrested for driving under the influence, announced via Zoom Wednesday that she is not running again. Democrat School Board President Edward Brown is running and is expected to be endorsed by the Upper Darby Democrats. However, neither Brown nor the township Democrat chair could be reached for comment.

Council Vice President Laura Wentz has also thrown her hat into the ring in the mayoral race, and remains a Democrat.

Wentz said she’s running “to bring a union activist’s determination to fight for everyone in Upper Darby Township. Now more than ever, we need elected officials who will stand up for all the people. We need a mayor who will work to revitalize our local economy, bring living wage jobs to our community, and improve our natural environment.

Laura Wentz

“Being truly transparent would require that the administration be communicative, open, and respectful to residents, business owners, and our council,” Wentz said.  “Whether it is about new ordinances, economic matters, or projects, my administration will be transparent.   I will insist that my administration demonstrate an attitude of fairness and equality for all in the township, no matter if they live here, work here, or have business here.  You can count on me remaining true to these principles to which I have been passionately committed for many years.”

Burke has served on Upper Darby Council since 2019, when he was elected as a Democrat to an at-large seat and has served as president of the township council since January 2022.

“I love Upper Darby. Our town is filled with many great people and unique neighborhoods, but over the past three years, I have grown increasingly concerned about the direction of our township government,” said Burke.

The Upper Darby Democrats blackballed Burke, Wentz, and Councilman Matt Silva after they voted with Republicans for Burke to be council president, Burke said.  The party officials promised never to endorse them.

Wentz said, “Improving the quality of life in Upper Darby is not a task for one person. It will take a village to improve the quality of life in this township.  It will take all of our hands to help,  all of our voices and all of our ideas to help create the best for our township.  This is not about accepting one person’s vision, but this is about realizing our shared vision. I pledge to work hard to accomplish these priorities and more if elected mayor of Upper Darby.”

Burke said he would be delighted to run against Wentz if the primary voters nominate her. The two remain friends, as well as colleagues.

“Upper Darby wins if it’s Laura or me,” said Burke.

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Upper Darby to Pay Rongione $70,000 Through July

Vince Rongione, who resigned from his $140,000-a-year job as the chief administrative officer of Upper Darby Township in January, signed a severance agreement with the township that will give him his salary and health benefits through July 31.

Council President Brian Burke confirmed Rongione’s salary, saying he will receive $70,000 through July 31 plus $35,000 in healthcare benefits, including medical, dental, and vision for him and his family until the end of the year. According to the agreement, he will also be paid for 25 unused vacation days, information Delaware Valley Journal obtained through a right-to-know request.

The agreement stated, “The parties wish to amicably resolve (Rongione’s) employment” and “to fully resolve any and all potential claims regarding (his) employment with the township and separation from the township without the uncertainties, risk, and expense of litigation and without an admission of liability or wrongdoing by either party.”

In return, Rongione promised not to sue the township and to drop any pending litigation.

Burke panned the agreement, which he noted constraints the township financially as it tries to hire a new chief administrator.

“Was it worth it to the township? No,” said Burke. “Was it worth it to the council? No.” And he added, “The Home Rule Charter said that someone who is fired does not qualify for it.” Instead, he said Rongione should have applied for unemployment insurance payments and COBRA.

However, the settlement with Rongione does not preclude him from filing for unemployment benefits. “Township acknowledges that to the extent permitted by law, it will not take unilateral action to use this agreement to impact employee’s entitlement to unemployment compensation benefits.”

Tom Micozzi, the former mayor, agreed with Burke.

“I don’t understand how an at-will employee, fired by the council, can sue,” said Micozzi. “He’s not the first person who was let go by the council or resigned. How does he get compensated as an at-will employee?”

The agreement required Rongione to write a resignation letter.

Rongione had been embroiled in controversy after the township treasurer gave a presentation in February 2022 alleging that balances of some bank accounts, which held federal American Rescue Plan Act money, were lower than expected.

In June 2022, the council voted to fire Rongione. But in July, Rongione sued the six council members individually who voted to fire him the previous month and remained in his position.

When Rongione, who had the mayor’s backing, did not leave, the council sought a court order to remove him. That case also remains pending, and the severance agreement requires the township to continue to pay Rongione’s attorney fees.

Rongione also promises not to sue the township for age discrimination in the agreement. Burke noted that the age discrimination statute applies after age 40.

With Mayor Barbarann Keffer away for rehab after her recent DUI arrest, Burke issued a statement saying he would step in as acting mayor. Almost immediately, solicitor Sean Kilkenny released a rebuttal claiming Keffer was not actually absent.

After Keffer came to this week’s council meeting via Zoom, Burke relinquished his claim. At the meeting, Kilkenny read an affidavit from Keffer that she would continue her mayoral duties from rehabilitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s really going on?

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

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

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

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

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

However, Quillen-Knox said that they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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