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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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Upper Darby Mayor: I Am Prepared to Face Consequences for DUI

In a statement released Monday, Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer apologized for behavior that resulted in DUI charges against her.

Keffer was in a traffic accident in Upper Chichester Thursday evening after reportedly attending a Democratic fundraiser. She told police she’d had three drinks before getting behind the wheel.

In her statement Monday, Keffer said that she is “cooperating fully” with authorities and is “prepared to face the consequences of my action.”

“I will be forever grateful that no one was physically harmed in this incident. I apologize to my family, my staff, and my constituents for this severe error in judgment. I realize that this may be hard for some to forgive, but I ask that you look at my nine-plus years of
public service and not just this one terrible decision.”

She added, “I am seeking professional treatment for alcohol addiction. An estimated 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than 10 percent receive treatment. I hope others can learn from my experience and seek the help they need.”

Keffer also blamed “the stress of the constant personal attacks” and said that her treatment plan includes finding healthy ways to “handle these stressors so that I can continue to fulfill my promise to reform, reinvest, and revitalize Upper Darby.”

She said that Acting Co-Chief Administrative Officers Alison Dobbins and Rita LaRue would oversee township government operations.

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Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer Arrested for DUI

Mayor Barbarann Keffer of Upper Darby was booked on DUI charges following a Thursday night traffic stop in Upper Chichester Township.

According to court documents, Keffer appeared to be drunk, got into a crash, and ultimately refused a blood test.

Charging documents allege Keffer was alone in the car while traveling westbound on Route 322 near Chelsea Parkway when an officer behind her noticed her Toyota Corolla had a flat tire on the passenger side, a broken headlight, damage to its front bumper, and was swerving into coming traffic.

The officer pulled Keffer over after 9 p.m. and smelled alcohol. According to an Upper Chichester officer’s written affidavit, Keffer also had “glassy bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and unstable balance.”

Keffer admitted to having three drinks, failed a roadside sobriety test, and then refused to continue with the test as the officer determined she was not capable of driving.

She was placed in custody and taken to the Upper Chichester Police Department, where she allegedly refused to be photographed and fingerprinted. Police say she was not hostile.

As the investigation continued, police reported township surveillance cameras revealed her vehicle was not damaged at one point during her travels.

However, police believe she hit a guardrail and found part of that guardrail damaged on the 700 block of Meetinghouse Road. Multiple reports say Keffer was returning from a Democratic fundraiser in the township that night.

While Keffer was released from custody later that night, Upper Darby officials released a statement on Friday afternoon on Keffer’s behalf.

“Last evening, Mayor Barbarann Keffer was involved in a traffic incident and plans to cooperate fully with local authorities in Upper Chichester. Mayor Keffer was arrested on suspicion of DUI and released. Mayor Keffer and her family request privacy as they deal with the personal aspects of this incident, and she will offer additional comment soon.”

Former GOP councilman and current Upper Darby resident Patrick Spellman said the mayor could be forced to resign if the council finds moral wickedness, defined as an act that blatantly violates the point of view of the accepted standard of the community.

“Obviously due process plays out, but early indication reveals so much bad behavior concerning this incident that she shouldn’t be holding public office at this time,” Spellman told Action News.

“Last night, Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer once again displayed poor judgment, this time choosing to drive a vehicle while intoxicated endangering herself and others, offering another example of why she should not lead our largest municipality,” said Frank Agovino, chair of the Delaware County Republican Committee on Friday. “These complex times require steady leadership and instead the Upper Darby government has been plagued with dysfunction, scandal, financial mismanagement, and a skyrocketing crime rate.”

“While I am sensitive to those that make mistakes or suffer from addiction, Mayor Keffer should recognize based on recent events that remaining as mayor is not in the best interest of Upper Darby Township,” Agovino added.

The news of Keffer’s arrest comes right after the ongoing controversy within the township as Chief Administrative Officer Vincent Rongione stepped down.

“I can assure you that the government is operating, as usual, to serve the businesses, residents, and visitors of Upper Darby, with our administrative leadership and their team members focused on providing municipal services, activities, and programs to the community,” Alison Dobbins, Upper Darby Township deputy chief administrative officer said in a statement.

The next council meeting is set for Wednesday, February 1. Keffer is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on March 1.

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Upper Darby Administrator Vince Rongione Steps down, Ending Months of Controversy

This article first appeared in Broad & Liberty.


Despite tenaciously clinging to power in a months-long saga of accusations, financial investigations, firings, and legal maneuvers, Upper Darby administrator Vincent Rongione stepped down Wednesday from his position as the township’s chief administrative officer — but he says the motivations were personal, not political.

Rongione confirmed his exit to Broad + Liberty Wednesday afternoon, saying, “Everything in life is timing.”

“We had three very successful, very productive, hard years with the administration, and I’m very fortunate. [My wife and I] just had our second baby and I decided the time was right to focus on my family and spend some time on that,” Rongione explained.

An email from Mayor Barbarann Keffer to township employees announcing Rongione’s departure said, “Vince helped us build an incredible team, modernize many government operations, and make historic investments in our municipality all under the impossible and unprecedented circumstances of a global pandemic and a generational transition in the government.”

Rongione declined to comment when asked to describe any benefits package or severance package he may have received on his way out.

Rongione has been the center of a political storm in the township that first erupted last February, when the township treasurer made a presentation to the township council alleging that the balance of some bank accounts were lower than they should have been, given that one of those accounts in particular housed the funds the township received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

At that moment, the township council cleaved into two factions that would remain steadfast in the following months. A group of five Democrats solidified behind Rongione and Mayor Barbarann Keffer while a bipartisan group of six — three Republicans and three Democrats — demanded more financial transparency before they would agree to approve any spending of the ARPA monies.

The rest of the year was consumed with financial investigations, one launched by the mayor, the other launched by the group of six. The group of six also voted to fire Rongione on multiple occasions, but were sometimes stymied in those efforts by legal uncertainties and technicalities.

In July, Rongione sued the township council, arguing the group of six had conspired against him. His suit asked for an award for damages of no less than $50,000.

As to the question of whether the township council had the authority to fire Rongione, the group of six took that matter to court, asking for a bench ruling affirming that the council had that authority to take the action under the township’s home rule charter. The case fell to Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Angelos Spiros, who earlier dismissed one of the council’s efforts to fire Rongione because the council had not met all of the particulars of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law. But the council pressed the judge for a ruling on the sole matter of whether it possessed authority to fire him.

Council President Brian Burke said he expected the subsequent ruling to be delivered anytime.

“I do know that Judge Angelos, as of two weeks ago, was going to come down with a decision by the end of the month,” Burke told Broad + Liberty.

“I don’t know if [Rongione] knew that. They [the court] weren’t waiting till March 13. So I kind of find it odd that he’s resigning two days before the end of the month,” Burke added.

Rongione said Burke’s theory, the idea that a ruling was eminent, was “not a factor.”

“The matter was scheduled for the March term so I wouldn’t imagine a ruling anytime soon and our case remains incredibly strong on the law,” Rongione said.

In a Facebook post, CBS 3 reporter Joe Holden noted Rongione’s tenure was marked by controversy, in part because of the station’s reporting.

“That includes reporting by CBS3 over questions of delivery of services and management of personnel during the pandemic (trash collection delays for weeks), the fallout over attempted politicization of the township’s beloved and long-running summer theater program and questions about federal Covid-19 funds allocation.”

Broad + Liberty also reported in May that Upper Darby’s former finance director, Gary Merron, said he had been cooperating with an investigation into Rongione led by the Delaware County district attorney’s office. When asked on Tuesday, Rongione said he had no indication of any such thing. No charges have ever been announced.

Mayor Keffer responded to several questions by providing a copy of a press release.

Requests for comment to the five Democrats on council who supported Rongione were not immediately returned.

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.