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Who's mayor? Power struggle brewing in Upper Darby Township

Who's calling the shots in Upper Darby?
Who's calling the shots in Upper Darby? 03:07

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (CBS) -- Two public officials are claiming to be mayor in Upper Darby. It's a public dispute that started with the arrest of the elected mayor.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Council President Brian Burke said, "make no mistake, I'm the interim mayor." It's a doubling down that has added another layer of controversy in the township, one that has led to multiple statements over the past 24 hours.

In what have been a topsy-turvy few weeks in Upper Darby Township, now there is more controversy.

The council president on Monday said he's the mayor while current Mayor Barbarann Keffer is being treated for what she's described as an alcohol addiction.

Burke pointed to a section of the township charter, explaining if the mayor is absent for any period, he steps in. But in a not-so-fast response, members of Keffer's staff said she isn't absent at all, according to their attorney.

Their statement says she continues to carry out her duties.


"If Council President Burke would like to be mayor, he should run for office," Councilmember Andrew Hayman said.

The public twist over township leadership has council members at odds.

"She may not be physically present in the building, but there is no requirement for the mayor to be physically in the building," Hayman said. "She's provided a clear chain of command."

Councilmember Meaghan Wagner, on the other hand, said she believes Keffer to be absent.

Leadership questions were raised after the mayor was charged with a DUI two weeks ago.

That came a day after her second-in-command abruptly resigned.

"If she is, in fact, is getting the help that she needs, which I sincerely hope she is, then she would be absent," Wagner said. "I'm familiar with those types of in-patient treatments, and that is what she should be focusing on. And if, in fact, that is where she is, then, yes, I do believe she is absent."

Bill Vinsko, a longtime government attorney, reviewed the statements and the township's charter at CBS Philadelphia's request.

"So she is temporarily absent. She is admitting that the day-to-day operations are going to be done by the chief administrative officer," Vinsko said. "So for those purposes, I think that legally, the president of council does assume the role until she is back."

CBS Philadelphia was told not to expect the matter to be settled without possible court action.

"This is an attempted coup," Hayman said, "but it's done on social media and it's done through press releases. … Claiming to be the mayor, I can claim to be the king, but I'm not."

Burke says he's operating as the township's interim mayor.

CBS Philadelphia sent a list of follow-up questions to the township's attorney. We never heard back.

CBS Philadelphia also asked if Keffer would take any questions since in her statement she says she's still carrying out her duties. There was no response to that either.

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