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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.