Faced with a choice between filling its vacant Middle Ward seat with the “abrasive” borough manager it fired in 2008, a 26-year-old former councilman who resigned without notice or explanation just 18 months prior, and a white-haired resident who didn't demonstrate any grasp of the issues the body faces, the Phoenixville Borough Council chose option D at its July 10 meeting: None of the above.
After a series of interviews with the candidates, the council rejected the application of resignee Michael Handwerk by a 5-2 vote, former manager Anthony DiGirolomo by a 4-3 tally, and didn’t even make a motion to vote on former-Marine Marty McCabe.
The council will attempt to recruit new applicants and reconvene on July 23 at 7 p.m. to try, again, to fill the vacancy.
But while the meeting didn’t yield a replacement for , it did produce some charged moments as the council members banged heads over the relative merits, and demerits, of their favored candidates.
“We look like a bunch of damn fools…we can clearly see who the most qualified candidate is,” snapped president Richard Kirkner, who voted “yes” on former manager Anthony DiGirolomo, after the applicant he supported was voted down.
“We have an opportunity to put someone here who can really move things along.”
Kirkner’s outburst sparked a disordered series of shouts, accusations, and frustrations from the council, and the crowd as well.
“He got fired from the borough!” shouted one attendee over the jangle, presumably in reference to DiGirolomo.
“You’re a nut,” he screeched again.
The council’s frustration, several members admitted during a break in the proceedings, was underpinned by the fact that this was the fourth time since 2010 it has had to make such an appointment. This time, the tension was exacerbated by checkered past of its two serious candidates.
DiGirolomo, a former councilman himself, saw his two-year stint as borough manager end in January of 2008 when he was fired by a 5-3 vote. In a managerial tenure The Phoenix called “embattled,” DiGirolomo had conflicts with the police—“He watched their budget, which not a lot of other people do,” said Kirkner—and then-Main Street Community Development Corporation director Barry Cassidy.
While DiGirolomo maintains he was fired without cause—“There are a lot of rumors, a lot of misconceptions about me that just aren’t true,” he said, declining to elaborate on these out of concern for the peace of mind of his family—a majority of the board deferred to the judgment of the past council.
“Honestly, I wasn’t going to vote for someone that a previous council just fired,” Middle Ward representative Jenn Mayo said matter-of-factly after the meeting.
Kirkner was DiGirolomo’s most vocal advocate on the council. He told Patch that DiGirolomo had been fired as manager for petty, personal reasons, and was, while occasionally abrasive, a competent civil servant.
Furthermore, he added, DiGirolomo’s tenacity is just what the council needs. He said whoever takes the second Middle Ward seat will probably serve on the regional planning commission, and so would need to be capable of strongly advocating for the borough. DiGirolomo, he said, is well equipped for the task.
The other applicant who garnered votes, 2004 Phoenixville Area High School graduate Michael Handwerk, served on council for three years until he abruptly left with a in January of 2011.
He told Patch he quit due to a “personal matter,” and though he declined multiple requests to expand on this, he emphasized that the problem has been resolved and would not be a hindrance were he to rejoin the body.
As for Handwerk’s candidacy, Mayo, who voted in the affirmative, said she wanted to resolve the process that night, and figured a party who quit was, other things equal, more reliable than one who got fired.
Kirkner, who was one of the five who voted against Handwerk, saw it differently.
“He sat here for three years and didn’t say a word,” the president fumed, adding that the only occasion he remembered Handwerk taking an active role in the council was when he wrote a letter criticizing East Ward representative Mike Speck for attempting to rename a bridge.
If appointed, neither candidate said he had plans to run for reelection next year.