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Concern grows in Upper Darby over handling of parking tickets

Parking controversy brewing in Upper Darby
Parking controversy brewing in Upper Darby 07:28

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (CBS) -- There are concerns over the handling of parking tickets in Upper Darby after numerous sources say they no longer were being processed by the local courts.

Parking is big business. Feed the meter and swipe your card.

In Upper Darby Township, there are dozens of metered parking spaces, but something quietly changed.

According to numerous interviews, sources, documents and a review of judicial records, in the spring of 2021, parking tickets and violations issued by Upper Darby Township Parking Enforcement were suddenly no longer arriving at the local district magistrates for processing.

What happened?

"I don't know," Constable Jack Kelly said. "To this day, almost two years."

Kelly said what caught his attention was there were no longer any court hearings for parking violations.

"The meter department usually within 60 days," Kelly said, "they would send to the courts all the citations issued in the past two months and the courts would docket them, send out a summons for each defendant to plead guilty or not guilty, request a hearing or pay the citation."

In a months-long investigation, CBS3 Investigations found in one district court, 62 parking violations were heard in 2020 and 73 in 2021, but in 2022 and 2023, there were zero.

A review of court records for other district courts in Upper Darby showed a similar pattern.

After 2021, there were no records of any parking violations reaching local courts.

So what happened to those tickets?

Earlier this month, a testy exchange between township council and the mayor occurred at a public meeting when the council president pressed for an explanation on what was happening with parking violations.

"This sounds like council overreach into the daily operations of the administration," Mayor Barbarann Keffer said.

"This is not," Council President Brian Burke said. "Mayor, this is an ordinance that's not being followed by the ordinance."

As you just heard, some members of township council have made allegations ordinances are not being followed.

They say specifically one showing the parking enforcement department should "file and prosecute all citations for unpaid parking tickets with the district court."

"For a while now, I've been in a bit of a parking war with Upper Darby Township, so to speak," Tyson Combs said.

Combs admits he had a lot of parking tickets. He appeared at a township meeting in November, raising concerns about district courts not getting tickets.

This barber shop owner at 69th and Market Streets explains he's often too busy with work to pay the meter.

Combs owned two cars, including a 2019 Cadillac. One day this past June, he says his car was missing.

"I had my car parked around the corner for about two weeks on a residential block as I drove my other vehicle," Combs said. "One day, I decided to switch cars and take my other car and I noticed that it wasn't there."

Combs said he contacted a local towing company and learned his Cadillac had been sitting there for a month after racking up too many parking violations.

"As time went on, they said it was $30 a day," Combs said. "I was running a business. It's been hard, the pandemic and everything. I haven't had the money. When it was at about $1,200, I didn't have the money at that time."

Combs said he eventually owed a total of $4,000 for the towing company, related storage fees and outstanding tickets from the township. It's an amount he says he couldn't afford to pay.

He said he tried to negotiate with the parking enforcement authority, but he insists he never got a court hearing.

"No hearing, no chance to dispute the tickets or anything," Combs said.

Combs said he "absolutely" wanted a hearing.

Reached by phone, the towing company owner says he mailed Combs certified letters about his Cadillac. Combs denies ever receiving them.

In the end, the towing company tells CBS News Philadelphia that the vehicle's lien holder repossessed it.

He says he stopped making payments on the loan after he says he couldn't afford to have the vehicle released.  

The car was now gone, and without a court hearing, the constable says that's concerning.

"So, if you get a ticket on your car and it never makes it to court," Kelly said, "you don't have your due process."

Over the course of our investigation, we filed open records requests asking for any documents related to the township's reporting of parking violations to the courts.

After several weeks, the township sent us this, denying the release of those records, they said they're part of a "criminal/non-criminal investigation." They would not comment on which one.

Meanwhile, after we began probing and asking questions, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania court system confirmed that the township sent an 18-month backlog of parking violations to the court administrators in Harrisburg for processing.

The number of tickets that never made it to the local district courts is 18,000, according to the Pennsylvania court administration.

Earlier this month, we then took our questions right to the Parking Enforcement office. We were told that the director of parking, Sekela Coles, was not available and we left a message.

Days later, again we tried to speak with the parking director. This time, a number of township employees met us.

We were told to contact the township's chief administrative officer, Vincent Rongione. Multiple requests for an interview went unanswered.

Just days ago, Rongione resigned from his position to focus on family, according to a statement. He was also praised for a list of accomplishments.

While our cameras were rolling, a township worker moved the parking director's car, pulling it inside a municipal garage.

Keffer eventually emerged to speak with us.

"I have complete faith in Dr. Coles, who is our parking enforcement director," Keffer said. "I think she is doing things, processing tickets like they did before we even started. So, this seems to be a misunderstanding."

The mayor said Coles was unavailable to take any questions.

The mayor did say the township has had technological issues, using an outdated system that created a perfect storm scenario in how it functioned with court administration in Harrisburg.

The mayor denied there were ever changes to how violations were processed through the courts.

The township's website and tickets still even showed language advising people if they want to contest it, you have to wait to receive a summons from court.

"There has not been a change in policy if that's what you're asking," Keffer said. "No procedural changes."

In follow-up emails with Upper Darby Township, they said it's their understanding they're not the only municipality that's experienced challenges with the statewide court system in Harrisburg. 

They added their attorney says they're in compliance with all township ordinances.

As for courts statewide, they say they are now trying to determine a path forward to resolve all of this.

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