For several months across 2021 and 2022, the director of parking enforcement in Upper Darby broke with longstanding procedures of depositing coins directly through Brinks Security, and instead opted to take coins collected at kiosks to be counted at a bank that the township does not currently do business with, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Sources said the director, Dr. Sekela M. Coles, had coins collected at parking kiosks given to a particular staffer in the parking department who then would take them to the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union, where the coins were presumably deposited into an account or converted into some kind of instrument like a cashier’s check.
Broad + Liberty does not currently have any evidence that any money went missing or is unaccounted for. But one upshot, according to a source, is that the new procedure greatly weakened previous accountability and chain-of-custody structures meant to provide maximum security while curbing losses.
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All coin monies are normally put through a coin counter owned by the township, one source explained. That counting machine put the coins into Brinks bags which are securely closed, and then transferred to Brinks once a week.
Instead, with the alternate method, coins collected at kiosks were taken to the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union to be counted, and the specific Upper Darby employee would go back to Coles with some kind of documentation showing how much was collected or counted.
The sources said this information was passed on to the office of Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer months ago. To date, no charges of any kind have been filed. Within the Upper Darby township’s purview, no person appears to have been disciplined for any improper conduct.
Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer, who is not seeking re-election this November in the wake of a DUI scandal, did not directly address questions on the parking procedures.
“My administration constantly evaluates each and every department to seek any necessary improvements to internal controls, policies, financial reporting systems, as well as other municipal functions,” Keffer said in a response to questions. “I believe it would be irresponsible for me to comment on internal reviews or to answer speculative questions on these matters.”
Coles said she could not properly address the above allegations given the deadline imposed by Broad + Liberty for comment. This outlet emailed and called Coles shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, asking for comment to be provided by 3 p.m.
She also intimated she was considering legal action.
“Be advised any article mentioning my name, allegations against me, and my business reputation are defamatory per se,” she said. “All rights and remedies available to me legally under Pennsylvania law will be pursued against you individually and your media outlet. I have forwarded a courtesy copy of your communication to my attorney.”
A request for comment to the district attorney’s office was not returned.
Problems with the township’s parking enforcement first came to light in January 2023 after CBS3 investigative reporter Joe Holden revealed thousands of parking tickets in Upper Darby had not been properly routed through local courts.
The township council authorized the audit of the parking department just one day after the Holden report, but a complete version of that audit has not yet been provided to the township government.
In early May, Broad + Liberty reported that some members of township council were having a hard time getting straight answers from Mayor Keffer’s administration, and were pressing for a full copy of the audit, which was months late by that time.
On June 1, Holden broke another report detailing elements of a preliminary audit that had been provided to township officials, but was not made available to the public. This report alleged serious mismanagement, including “a lack of communication at the township, a lack of oversight and a lack of internal controls and procedures,” according to Holden.
Whether the audit is complete is still unknown. Although some news outlets have quoted portions of the report, it has never been fully released to the public through official channels.
At a council meeting on May 24, solicitor Colleen Marsini acknowledged that part of the audit had been routed to the district attorney’s office.
“It was completed by Brinker Simpson and Donna Stillwell, part one,” Marsini began, referring to the auditors. “There was a part two, a supplement, that was submitted to the district attorney’s office. When that is returned, she [Keffer] then will be authorized to release the whole report.”
The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making.
In response to a Holden inquiry on June 1, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer acknowledged his office was looking into matters.
“We take all of these allegations seriously,” Stollsteimer said in the CBS report. “We are going to do investigations and if we, if charges are meant to be brought, we will bring them.”
When the audit was initially authorized by the township council, the routine of taking the kiosk coins to the Police and Fire Federal Credit union was suddenly halted, sources also said.
Thousands of persons who were ticketed in the township may not have had the opportunity to challenge the fines in front of a judge. An Upper Darby resident filed a class action lawsuit in April because of those due process issues.
Despite the numerous allegations of incompetent governance, Coles nevertheless claims her time as parking director has been an unmitigated success.
“Sekela Mungai Coles within her first year was able to transform the Upper Darby Parking Enforcement Department. Under her direction, the department’s systems have been modernized,” her bio on the township website says.
“Coles streamlined the parking payment processes, allowing residents to pay for parking through a safe, user-friendly app as opposed to only meters, as well as take online payment methods when paying parking fines and reserving municipal parking lot spaces,” the bio continues. It also mentions she oversaw the implementation of the first parking kiosks in the township in 2021.
Coles was also an elected member of the township council from 2014–20, according to her bio on the township website. She also challenged incumbent Democratic state House member Margo Davidson for her 164th district seat in 2016, but was unsuccessful.
Another report on the parking audit, this one by Delaware Valley Journal, quoted the audit at greater length.
“Before January 2021, there were no issues with unpaid parking tickets filed with the (courts),” the Delaware Valley Journal report noted in quoting the audit directly. “The change to the new Passport software system was not managed successfully, and there appears to have been no centralized decision-making. Our analysis indicates the township lacked the project management procedures and internal controls to prevent the breakdown that occurred as it related to the unpaid parking tickets and the failure of Upper Darby to timely submit the citations to the (courts)… The transition from the old system to the new system was not successful.”
“The internal controls in the Parking Department are currently unsatisfactory to safeguard township assets, and we are making recommendations to clearly define levels of responsibilities through documented procedures and financial oversight,” the audit also said, according to DVJ.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports