Upper Darby will continue to pay the salary of former Chief Administrative Officer Vincent Rongione through the end of July, and will pay for his benefits through the end of the year, according to documentation of Rongione’s severance package obtained by Broad + Liberty via Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.
Rongione served three years as Mayor Barbarann Keffer’s top administrator, and resigned his position on Jan. 25.
Rongione did not immediately respond to a Thursday text requesting comment on the severance details. At the time of his resignation in January, Rongione declined to comment on the details of his severance package when speaking by phone to Broad + Liberty.
Upper Darby Township Council President Brian Burke said he’s not convinced Rongione’s exit was voluntary, or that the severance package was legal.
“According to what I read in the home-rule charter, when you willfully resign, there is no compensation,” Burke said.
When asked if he believes Rongione was fired, Burke said he’s seen indications that might prove that was the case.
“There’s certain things that say he was discharged. There’s certain things that he said he willfully resigned,” Burke said. “There’s two different reports. You know — if he willfully resigned, he should’ve never got a package. If he was discharged, then he was fired. He shouldn’t have gotten a package either way.”
To illustrate why the mayor should not have unilateral authority to create severance packages, especially for those resigning, Burke used a hypothetical — and one with near-term implications.
“My question is, if Mayor Keffer loses her primary, does she automatically hand out packages to all of her deputy [chief administrative officers] because they’re going to be replaced? I mean, what ability does she have to do that?” Burke asked.
But the township defended its actions, and the scope of Rongione’s severance.
“In other instances of employee severance, Upper Darby Township has used a formula to determine exit packages which uses months of service to calculate months of severance,” acting co-CAO Alison Dobbins said by email. “This formula was used to calculate the exit package provided to former CAO Rongione.”
Rongione’s departure in January turned out to be especially ill-timed given that just one day later, Mayor Keffer was arrested in Upper Chichester on allegations of driving under the influence. The two developments taken together appeared to leave the township in a power vacuum of sorts.
Burke, who has been a part of a bipartisan group of the township council at odds with Keffer for a year now, tried to assume the role of chief executive just over a week ago, invoking the township charter to declare himself interim mayor.
Through township channels, Keffer indicated she had voluntarily placed herself in rehabilitation for alcohol dependence, but also argued she was not “absent” from her job, so Burke had no right to act as interim mayor. Because Keffer has recently attended some township meetings by Zoom or other remote methods, Burke isn’t pressing the issue further at the moment.
Rongione’s exit in January also came as other potential scandals were continuing to be excavated in the media.
Days after Rongione’s exit, CBS3 chief investigative reporter Joe Holden broke a story that the township neglected to refer approximately 18,000 parking tickets to local courts for adjudication. That raises issues related to transparency, accountability, and due process.
“Keffer last month explained the ticket controversy happened as the result of technology issues,” Holden noted, while also reporting that Upper Darby council approved an audit of the parking ticket situation in the wake of his original report.
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