High Tensions, Flawed Candidates Leave Council Seat Vacant

Order broke as the borough council argued over who would take the Middle Ward seat.

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.

A Taxpayer July 12, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Good job council, I also believe that none of these would be appropriate. They had their chance to serve the public and failed. Leave the seat open, election is just around the corner. Perhaps somebody worth electing will run for the seat,
Richard A Breuer July 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM
No, the election is not just around the corner. The next municipal election is in November 2013. Council has a duty to fill the seat promptly and give the Middle Ward the representation to which it is entitled.
Michael Hill July 12, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I call into question Kirkner’s actions. He has put DiGirolomo on the now defunct Parking Authority and then the zoning review board. He seems to vote based on personal opinions and not what his constituents needs or desires. Voters of the North ward please take note Kirkner’s term ends in 2013 can we please vote someone in who has Phoenixville’s and more importantly the North wards best interest in mind.
Barry Cassidy July 12, 2012 at 12:12 PM
audits are an important part of government. when you do not file them you end up on the commonwealth's "restricted list". managers that get their communities on the "restricted list" usually do not fare well in the short term and the long term consequences of such inaction linger in the minds of many. Warranted or not, the "Bozo the Clown" factor will always linger.
You Wish July 12, 2012 at 01:10 PM
When will DiGirolomo just go away and realize that the people of Pville don't want him in leadership roles? He's a want-to-be politician who won the borough manager job due to cronyism rather than competence. Once the borough realized lack of business skills, they rightfully fired him. What is Kirkner thinking? Other than he wants his buddy to feel important again. Too late!
You Wish July 12, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Amen. Cronyism is no longer in Vogue.
A. James Montemurro July 12, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Who is in charge of cleaning up the couch in the middle of Prospect and the ratty beds that are leaning against the wall of Club 212? I'll vote for that guy.
Ed Roper July 12, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I still have yet to see a comprehensive explanation of whats "wrong" with DiGirolomo, since he was fired before I moved here. Can somebody explain, in facts rather than inflamed opinions, why he was fired and whats so controversial about him?
Joe Melchiorre July 12, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Well, things have not changed much with Boro Council since the 70's & 80's. This council is making the councils in the past look sane. Still too much cronyism & good ole boy BS. What this council lacks is leadership, starting at the TOP!!
Bill N. July 12, 2012 at 03:00 PM
A. James: you need to contact the Codes Dept. and they'll get it handled.
A. James Montemurro July 12, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Thanks for the heads up Bill N. Just trying to make sure it's addressed before any out-of-towners come to hang out for Blob Fest this weekend.
Ken Buckwalter July 12, 2012 at 06:01 PM
“We look like a bunch of damn fools…we can clearly see who the most qualified candidate is,” snapped president Richard Kirkner. As a resident of Phoenixville I am embarrassed by the outburst of our Council President toward his colleagues and who are our elected representatives. It is high handed bullying that has no place in our public meetings. A leader would have respected the will of the majority, asked for more people to apply for the position, set a date for the interviews and then would have moved on to the next order of business.
Hipster Kitty July 12, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Richard Kirkner should be ashamed of how he behaves as the council president. I've sat through meetings and witnessed his juvenile temperament take hold. Once it does, he will bully his colleagues, demean their opinions and begin an exhausting grandstand session. On several occasions, Rich has changed his colleagues votes through these tactics. I applaud them for finally standing up to him because the bickering back and forth does not serve the residents, only Rich's ego. As far as Michael Handwerk is concerned, he served on council, but did not participate by voicing his opinion or engaging in spirited dialogue on how to enact positive change and growth for Phoenixville. Voting him in as the Middle Ward replacement would have been a detriment to the council.
Michael Greco July 12, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Glad I stayed home.
Ike July 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Well, you either LOVE these two guys or HATE them ...BUT ONE THING FOR SURE , AT LEAST THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING WHEN THEY WERE ON COUNCIL. Cant say that for some we have on there now.
AMELIA GIUMMULE July 13, 2012 at 12:40 AM
AMELIA GIUMMULE July 13, 2012 at 12:42 AM
A Taxpayer July 13, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Is 'council appointing' a State requirement or Borough Code? If Borough Code I would suggest a change to have a 'Special Election' for filling vacated seats.
ConcernedPHXresident July 13, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Michael Greco July 13, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I was wondering how long it would take before someone made this about their own personal stuff. Try to stay on topic.
Ed Roper July 13, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Dude, it's Phoenixville. You could bet money that somebody would go off topic :)
Ike July 13, 2012 at 07:00 PM
DiGirolomo knew what he was doing , and Handwerk talk enough to get the job done , plus he was one of the smarter ones Now what do you have? One who dont say anything , and some who dont have a clue. Why would anyone want to be place with this council, is hard to understand. Oh i forgot , the BIG BAD PRESIDENT,, watch it , he will give out asswhipping ,,, YEA right.
Richard A Breuer July 13, 2012 at 07:01 PM
State Law: 53 Section 45901 -- appointment by council in 30 days or by vacancy board in 15 days more.
LocalGirl July 13, 2012 at 09:57 PM
DiGirolomo lost my support when, as an elected official, he stood smoking on the sidewalk at Reeves Park and just casually tossed his cigarette butt on the ground. While his littering may seem like a petty incident, I think it speaks volumes about his character and personality.
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