Council boycott paralyzes government in Yeadon

Terry McGirth, who was tossed off Council in mid-July.
Terry McGirth, who was tossed off Council in mid-July.
Posted: August 17, 2009

Yeadon Borough, like other Delaware County municipalities that hug the Philadelphia border, is no stranger to cutthroat politics or the occasional out-of-control council meeting.

But at least its neighboring boroughs have fully functioning governments.

Over the last month, Council President Vivian Ford and two other allies of deposed Councilman Terry McGirth, a convicted embezzler, have refused to attend five council sessions.

As a result of the boycott - regarded by Ford's political opponents as a shameless attempt to maintain her voting majority - the seven-member council has been unable to form a quorum and conduct official business.

"For all practical purposes, government has been shut down in this town," said Councilwoman Jacquelynn Puriefoy-Brinkley, who has called for Ford, Councilman Jack Byrne and Councilwoman Florence Penny McDonald to be removed from their posts for failing to attend meetings.

"There are a lot of evil things going on here," Puriefoy-Brinkley said. "We are being held hostage by them. To put this community through what they're putting us through, it's almost criminal."

The controversy in the borough of about 11,000 residents revolves largely around McGirth, who was kicked off council in mid-July by a county judge because the state constitution bans persons convicted of an "infamous crime" from holding office.

McGirth, 53, an evangelist who was elected in 2007 and is facing criminal sexual-harassment charges, pleaded guilty in 2003 to stealing more than $100,000 from his employer, a kidney-dialysis company. He was a member of the four-person voting majority, headed by Ford, on the all-Democratic council.

The remaining six council members had 30 days to fill the vacancy, but four members are needed to form a quorum. Had all of the remaining members attended, Mayor Jacqueline Mosley, who is aligned with Puriefoy-Brinkley's faction, would have cast the deciding vote in the event of a 3-3 tie.

But this week, with the expiration of that 30-day window, Puriefoy-Brinkley said, the tie-breaking vote would go to the borough vacancy board chaired by Elaine Carter - who happens to be the mother of Councilwoman McDonald, a member of Ford's faction.

Ford's political opponents say that her faction has been stalling to give Carter, not the mayor, the deciding vote on who replaces McGirth.

Carter, 76, was charged with harassment earlier this year after, police say, she choked the 70-year-old chairwoman of the Yeadon Civic Association during a council meeting. A judge dismissed the charge last month after Carter completed mandatory anger-management classes.

"This is not just about some political struggle," said Rosalind Johnson, an outspoken Yeadon resident and former councilwoman. "We as a community are very concerned that critical business is not being attended to."

Interim Borough Manager Paul Janssen was on vacation last week and did not return a voicemail message. Ford, Byrne and McDonald did not return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, McGirth is awaiting trial next month on charges of indecent assault, stalking and harassment. He allegedly grabbed Terri Vaughn, then the borough finance director, and "against her will, kissed her mouth, stuck his tongue into her mouth and licked all around," according to the criminal complaint.

Vaughn later was fired. The state Attorney General's Office is investigating whether she misappropriated funds. Following her termination, Vaughn filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, when McGirth's replacement might finally be appointed - if enough council members show up.

Puriefoy-Brinkley said that the standoff has given Yeadon an undeserved black eye, leaving the misimpression that the borough is unable to govern itself.

"It's been a terrible year," she said.

"Our town is being portrayed as this boisterous, noisy, out-of-control place, when that really isn't who we are," Puriefoy-Brinkley said. "This is really a good town and a good place to live."