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.