Editor’s note: This Upper Darby op-ed originally appeared in the Delco Daily Times. It is republished here with the permission of Mayor Barbarann Keffer.
Recent news reports have left more questions than answers in the minds of our residents. I’m writing today to clear up any confusion about the current state of affairs in the Upper Darby Township government. First off, the day-to-day operations of the township are humming along smoothly: twice a week trash collection, the administration of our first trash fee rebate, new projects going out to bid, and around-the-clock public safety coverage are among the hundreds of tasks that need to be, and are, functioning on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, for the past two months, the slim majority of Township Council has refused to conduct the business of the Township as part of a political game that puts their personal vendettas and political ambitions ahead of the needs of the residents of the Township. Most significantly, they have let millions of federal dollars sit in the bank rather than approve their use on badly-needed Township projects because to them, these funds are better used as political leverage than to fund our police, parks, firefighters, and gun violence prevention programs.
The same slim majority currently controlling Upper Darby Township Council and holding these funds hostage has been repeatedly warned by the Township solicitor for attempts to violate the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, a law that promotes transparency by requiring all official government action to be placed on a public agenda prior to the meeting so that the public has opportunity to comment. On June 1, Council voted, against the advice of the Township Solicitor, on an item that appeared on no agenda — a motion that the CAO Vincent Rongione “forfeited” his job. If this language sounds tortured to you, it’s because the Council was attempting to avoid the Home Rule Charter’s clear requirements for dismissing a township employee. I, along with the township solicitor, disagree with the Council’s actions: the Home Rule Charter does not grant the legislative body the power to fire (or hire) any executive branch employee without the Mayor’s approval. This matter is before the court and Vincent Rongione remains the CAO unless a judge deems otherwise.
READ MORE — Judge lets legal request move forward seeking to affirm Upper Darby administrator’s firing
Despite knowingly false comments made by Councilman Andruszko to [the Delco Daily Times], the legal position of the Township administration is completely clear. The Home Rule Charter specifically states in C-803 F. that “any elected or appointed Township official or employee, department or agency requesting and receiving legal advice in writing from the legal officer regarding the official functions of such official, employee, department or agency shall be bound to follow such advice.”
Our solicitor has stated numerous times publicly and in writing his legal opinion that Vincent Rongione continues “serving [as CAO] until the Courts determine otherwise.” That is the clear and definitive position of the Township’s legal officer, and I am simply following that guidance as I — and Council — are required to do by the Home Rule Charter.
Further, the Township’s conflict solicitor has issued an opinion that not only did Council violate the Sunshine Act by refusing to give the public notice of their action, but the attempted action is also outside of the scope of their authority under the Home Rule Charter. The solicitor’s opinion states directly that a “majority vote of Council alone is not sufficient to cause the dismissal of Mr. Rongione from the position of CAO.” Again, the Home Rule Charter clearly states that the Mayor, CAO, and Council are all obligated to follow the official legal opinion of the legal officer/solicitor.
It is the same six council members who are in repeated violation of this provision of the Charter, who are repeatedly acting against the advice of the township solicitor, who are acting outside the scope of their authority as the legislative body of our local government, and who are attempting to hide these actions by repeatedly violating the Sunshine Act.
Until this matter is settled in court, CAO Rongione has agreed not to attend further Council meetings in person or virtually or participate in setting the meeting agenda. So I say to Council: no more excuses.
A slim majority of Council has made repeated claims that they would deign to hold regular Council meetings and conduct business if CAO Rongione were to be removed from the Council meeting process. His presence (via Zoom) has been their flimsy excuse to end meetings early, deny the administration any opportunity to speak, and going so far as to walk out rather than hear the administration give a financial update on the Township. This past Wednesday, they ended the meeting before even voting on the one agenda item before them.
Although the CAO has the right under the Home Rule Charter to attend Council meetings, it is not a legal requirement. Until this matter is settled in court, CAO Rongione has agreed not to attend further Council meetings in person or virtually or participate in setting the meeting agenda. So I say to Council: no more excuses. I challenge the Council to stand by their word and fulfill their duties by passing the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocations and moving forward with other critical priorities such as the capital improvement budget plan, the 2023 budget, and all other important and necessary functions.
Barbarann Keffer was sworn in as mayor of Upper Darby on Jan. 6, 2020, after serving for the prior six years as a Councilperson-at-Large.