Upper Darby Council President Brian Burke (D) late Monday announced his intention to take over executive leadership and become interim mayor in the township after Mayor Barbarann Keffer’s (D) disclosure that she would be committing herself to a rehabilitation clinic for alcohol addiction in the wake of a DUI charge.
Instead, he appears to have touched off another power struggle in the commonwealth’s sixth-largest municipality.
“I encourage Mayor Keffer to prioritize her health and I truly wish her the best as her recovery process moves forward,” Burke said in a press release. “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.”
READ MORE — Upper Darby administrator Vince Rongione steps down, ending months of controversy
In his press release sent at about 4 p.m. Monday, Burke pointed to section 405-A of the township charter which states, “During any period when the Mayor shall be absent, temporarily incapacitated, or unable for any cause to perform his duties, these duties shall be assumed by the President of Council, who shall become acting Mayor, and in the absence of the President of Council, by whomever Council shall appoint.”
Within half an hour, township officials fired back with a press release of their own.
“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,” the release said.
“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.’”
Keffer was arrested late in the evening of Jan. 26 and charged with DUI in Upper Chichester.
Four days later, she announced her decision “to seek professional help for alcohol addiction.”
Keffer’s DUI charge was compounded by the resignation of her chief administrative officer, Vince Rongione, just one day before. Because a chief administrative officer is approved by the township council, that person would normally have the authority to assume the executive role.
But as the township press release obliquely indicated, that chair is empty.
“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,” the township’s release said.
This latest saga comes on the heels of a year in which a bipartisan majority of the township council was locked in a battle against Keffer and Rongione over transparency issues.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports