UPPER DARBY — The latest round of legal wrangling over the appropriation of American Rescue Plan Act money has created new questions about the Upper Darby Township Council’s finance committee’s efforts to allocate a portion ARPA funds and violation of township self-government charter rules, according to the law offices of Sean Kilkenny, who serves as the township’s attorney.
Upper Darby chief administrative officer Vincent Rongione issued the press release on Tuesday stating that council chairman Brian Burke and vice-chairman Laura Wentz are in violation of the Home Rule Charter, as interpreted by Kilkenny.
The review was requested by Mayor Barbarann Keffer who said in the press release that some council members had been violating the council’s charter ban on interference for months and that it was harmful to the community.
According to the lawyer, the Autonomy Charter contains an express separation of powers, similar to the federal government, between the administration, which consists of the mayor and the chief executive, and the legislative branch, which is the township council.
The Home Rule Charter confers legislative powers only on the council.
Counsel therefore concluded that no member of council has the power to interfere in labor negotiations or the day-to-day administration of the township, or through the solicitation of applications from non-profit organizations, to meddle budget management.
Violation of the Autonomy Charter could mean the loss of a position.
Kilkenny’s legal opinion follows the publication by Marcum LLP. Independent forensic investigation into ARPA processing, which found that there was no misuse of ARPA funds. The board is also investigating the status of the funds, but has not released any findings.
At the May 4 meeting, the Upper Darby Council discussed releasing some of the Federal American Pandemic Rescue Plan funds that they withheld after questions about the misplacement of some of the funds from the ARPA.
At that meeting, Vice Chair Laura Wentz, D-At-Large, said the finance and appropriations committee was looking to allocate a portion of the funds.
The committee was preparing an order to release ARPA funds in the form of bonuses for township employees who worked during the pandemic; however, as these were union contracts, they filed it until township labor board attorneys reviewed the details.
Wentz also said at that meeting that the finance committee was seeking information from nonprofit organizations in the township that would be interested in receiving ARPA funds.
“We ask that you email us [email protected],” Wentz said at that meeting.
According to Kilkenny’s interpretation, this does not fall within the role of the council.
“Some council members violated the council’s charter prohibition on interference for months, but it has now become so blatant, obvious and damaging to our community that I have sought formal legal advice from our attorney,” Keffer said in the press release. “Our community and our employees deserve better than this from these board members. It really is high time to put aside personal feelings and petty political ambitions and do what is best for the people who have elected us to serve them.
“It is truly a sad thing for the community when politicians allow their ego to not only cloud their judgment, but to have a truly negative impact on the lives of the people they are elected to serve,” he said. said Rongione. “Unfortunately, this is exactly where these certain council members have led Upper Darby. It really should be embarrassing to them personally, but sadly and more importantly, as one resident said at a recent town hall meeting, their conduct is embarrassing to the whole community.
The two board members, Burke and Wentz, said they were reviewing the press release and had no comment.