Questionable finances causing problems in Colwyn

Outside the Colwyn borough hall are (from left) Frederick Lesher, councilman and chairman of the finance committee; Paul Meuser, the borough council president; Paula M. Brown, borough manager; Dan Rutland, interim borough manager; and Jesse Brundage, councilman and chairman of the public safety committee. (File photo/March 4, 2014)
Outside the Colwyn borough hall are (from left) Frederick Lesher, councilman and chairman of the finance committee; Paul Meuser, the borough council president; Paula M. Brown, borough manager; Dan Rutland, interim borough manager; and Jesse Brundage, councilman and chairman of the public safety committee. (File photo/March 4, 2014) (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 09, 2014

COLWYN At the least, Paula M. Brown says, the records that she has uncovered since taking over as manager of Colwyn Borough are unsettling. They may even be criminal.

One councilwoman in the tiny Delaware County borough signed checks from the borough coffers to her husband. Another was paid after resigning from the council. A third says she lent the borough $15,000 out of her own pocket to cover its payroll, and is now seeking repayment. And a onetime ranking police officer took home nearly $100,000 in pay in a single year - for what was supposed to be a part-time job.

Brown said she has turned those records and others over to the Delaware County District Attorney's Office, which has acknowledged it is investigating possible financial mismanagement by borough officials.

Brown was also subpoenaed to appear before a Delaware County grand jury in February, to which she said she provided the hard drive records from borough photocopy machines but did not testify.

Though the exact nature of the county's investigation is unclear, copies of documents that the borough has provided to investigators offer a small window into the chaos in Colwyn, which has 2,500 residents and the highest tax rate in the county.

Colwyn, just west of Philadelphia between Darby Borough and Darby Township, spans less than one-third of a square mile. The borough has been fraught with infighting, lawsuits, and allegations of wrongdoing in recent years.

Brown was hired as manager in January and has been working to organize the borough records.

"I'm really afraid of what else we're going to find," said Brown, a former mayor of neighboring Darby Borough who describes herself as a local gadfly.

Among the documents she has found is a December 2012 resignation letter from former Councilwoman Marguerite Thomas, stating that she could "no longer devote the time necessary to serve the residents of Colwyn in an official capacity." But a February 2013 pay stub shows a $125 check made out to Thomas, and tax records indicate that Thomas earned a total of $625 from the borough in 2013, during which she was not a member of the council. Reached by phone Wednesday, Thomas declined to comment.

Councilwoman Tonette Pray has signed several checks to her husband, according to bank statements. Brown said Pray has told officials that her husband's tech consulting company worked for the borough. Pray declined to comment when reached Wednesday.

Amid the borough's financial trouble, Councilwoman Martha Van Auken has claimed she took out a personal loan for $15,000 in 2011 and gave the money to the borough to cover its payroll expenses. She is now seeking to have the money returned to her.

"Was it a wise decision? No. It's very unwise," said her attorney, Samuel Stretton. "Is it illegal? No. She was trying to help the employees."

John P. McBlain, the borough's solicitor, said he was trying to gather information about Van Auken's loan to Colwyn. Loans typically cannot be taken out to cover payroll, he said, and all loans to municipalities must be approved by the state.

Brown has also raised questions about payments to police officers. Former Officer Wendell Reed, who had various roles in the department, including acting police chief, booked hundreds of hours in overtime, payroll records show, and earned $94,152 in 2012. Brown said Reed was technically employed as a part-time officer until his resignation this year.

Reed did not return a message left at his home Wednesday.

The borough "certainly faces a lot of challenges," said McBlain. "It's been a challenge so far this year."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116

@Lmccrystal

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