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Rongione’s Appointment to County Job Sparks Patronage Complaints

The Delaware County Council appointed two former Upper Darby officials to plum positions at its last meeting.

Vince Rongione, who was the township’s chief administrator, was appointed as county register of wills, and its former mayor, Barbarann Keffer, was appointed to the board of Delcora. Also appointed to Delcora’s board were former county solicitor William Martin and Kenneth Schuster, the City of Chester solicitor.

Former Upper Darby Council President Brian Burke said Rongione and Keffer’s appointments are “political patronage.”

“It’s a political patronage job,” said Burke, about Rongione’s appointment to the $47,000 a year opening for register of wills. The previous register, Rachel Ezzell Berry, was elected to the Common Pleas Court bench in November.

Keffer did not seek re-election as mayor in the wake of a DUI arrest.

“I thought the Democrats wanted to take over the county because of the Republicans’ did it (patronage),” said Jeff Jones, an Upper Darby resident and Republican who ran for county council. “But there was never patronage like this. It seems to me the Democrats are doing exactly what they accused the Republicans of doing.”

Rongione had “shown he was inept at his job,” said Jones. “Hopefully, he’s not inept as register of wills.”

Rongione said he stepped down for family reasons. However, his tenure at the Upper Darby helm was marked by controversy. In February 2022, the township treasurer told the township council, alleging that the balance of some bank accounts were lower than they should have been. At issue was $41 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

A bipartisan group of six council members tried to fire Rongione. Rongione, a lawyer, then sued Upper Darby.

In June 2022, an auditor found no problems with the township’s handling of ARPA funds, but a group on the council continued to press for more information, saying the auditor did not have access to all the township’s accounts. A second audit also found no money was missing. In the end, the money was not gone but comingled with other accounts, the treasurer said.

Burke, who switched parties and ran for mayor as a Republican, also accused Keffer of holding up funds for various projects by refusing to sign off on the council’s legislation.

“I’ve always been passionate about public service,” said Rongione. “And (being a register of wills) is a great way to showcase how the government can help people through important transitional moments in their lives. We also do marriage licenses, in addition to estate and will functions. So it’s really a great opportunity to help folks navigate these important transitional moments.”

As for his critics, Rongione said, “There’s always going to be partisan political nonsense.”

“I went through a thorough vetting process in order to obtain the position, and I’m tremendously grateful for the vote of confidence and I look forward to the opportunity to prove myself in a less contentious environment to anyone who might be skeptical.”

Rongione is a graduate of Villanova University and Villanova law school. He also holds a certificate in mediation.

Council Chair Monica Taylor, Ph., said they interviewed all the candidates separately, and she was very impressed with Rongione.

“I am very supportive of his application,” said Taylor. “He seemed to have the best answers and the managerial experience. I’m looking forward to having him serve as the register of wills, and hopefully, he’ll run for (the office) in 2025.”.

But Terry Tracy, chair of the Upper Darby Republican Committee, disagrees with that assessment.

“Vince Rongione’s appointment to county-wide office is a classic example of failing up,” said Tracy. “The only way it is possible that he was the most qualified candidate for this role is if he was literally the only candidate county council considered, and even that’s being overly generous. Given his unfortunate resume…every dime he is paid in this job should be considered by Delaware County taxpayers, to borrow a phrase coined by Delco Democrats, a ‘corruption tax.’”

Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said she would not support Schuster’s appointment because she backed another qualified person and was concerned about a conflict since he is the Chester solicitor.

“Whether it’s legal or perceived, it’s not clean,” said Schaefer, who noted that Martin had similar skills as an experienced attorney.

Adrienne Marofsky sent this response to a question regarding political patronage, “As with all hiring and appointments by the County, these appointments were made on the basis of appropriate experience and suitability for the position following careful consideration by Council.”

Lawyer Frank Catania, who used to represent Delcora, said about the new appointments, “Obviously, they’re people that Delaware County Council has a lot of confidence in.”

Delcora board members are compensated. However, a spokeswoman for Delcora did not respond when asked how much board members are paid.

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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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.

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.