Judge calls Colwyn Council takeover illegal

Posted: January 31, 2014

COLWYN A three-member faction of the Colwyn Borough Council initiated "an illegal takeover of council" last week during a wild public meeting that featured two mysterious security guards who may have been armed, a Delaware County Court judge ruled Wednesday.

"This was a rogue action. There is no law for what they did," President Judge Chad F. Kenney said. He called the faction's efforts "a takeover based on feeling and belief" as well as "bad advice" from lawyers. "I don't know where in America that is done," he said.

Councilwomen Patricia Williams, Tonette Pray, and Martha Van Auken took over the Jan. 22 special meeting that was supposed to discuss community development block grants.

The Williams-led faction alleged that Council President Paul Meuser, who was reelected in November, and new council members Jesse Brundage and Frederick Lesher were disqualified for office because they failed to submit affidavit-of-residency paperwork prior to the council's Jan. 6 reorganization meeting.

Williams declared the councilmen's three seats vacant and then ignored Meuser's directives to restore order. The council, operating with four members, took action to appoint a new solicitor and swear in three unelected members in attendance to replace Meuser, Brundage, and Lesher.

"I don't think I had the authority. I had the right" to declare the seats vacant, Williams said on the witness stand Wednesday. She accused the new council members of initiating a "hostile takeover" by changing locks on borough-owned buildings and making personnel decisions such as hiring Paula M. Brown as the borough's manager.

The solicitor who was hired by the three-member faction, Michael F. Schleigh, filed an injunction in Common Pleas Court seeking to legitimize the faction's takeover and invalidate any action Borough Council had taken between Jan. 6 and 22.

District Judge Edward Gannon Jr. administered the oath of office Jan. 6 to swear in Meuser, Brundage, and Lesher in an unusual arrangement, where the three councilmen simply raised their hands without uttering an audible affirmation to uphold the U.S. and state constitutions.

The proper process with the affidavit paperwork and swearing in "clearly was not taken in this case," but "the individuals elected were qualified" and "clearly took an oath," Kenney said.

With Kenney denying the injunction, "I just hope the division stops and we move forward to take care of business," Williams said.

Brundage, 64, a 14-year borough resident, said he was pleased with Kenney's ruling.

"The bottom line is, we were elected, and we are trying to do the best for the borough," Brundage said. "Right now, the borough is in bad shape."

Brown, who previously served as a councilwoman and mayor of Darby Borough, after the ruling said Colwyn Borough Council had "misappropriated funds for the past four or five years." She said the borough is in a "distressed financial condition" where police officers are not getting paid.

Brown said Kenney's ruling is "extremely beneficial," adding, "Now we have nowhere to go but up."

Colwyn has a special council meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday to adopt a preliminary amended 2014 operating budget.

sabdur-rahman@phillynews.com610-313-8112 @sabdurr

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