Chester Mayor Stefan Roots accuses 2 City Council members of violating city charter and receiving 2 salaries

Roots told WHYY News that Fred Green and Portia West have two options: Step down from the stormwater authority board or resign from City Council.

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The Stormwater Authority

The Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester on East 5th Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Councilmembers Fred Green and Portia West receive salaries from the City of Chester for their public service.

The pair also serve on the board of the Stormwater Authority for the City of Chester — where they earn an additional salary.

First-term Mayor Stefan Roots alleges Green and West are violating Article II, Section 202 of the city charter, which states that no council member should “hold any other compensated position in the City of Chester government.”

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This prohibition does not include non-paying positions with any local, state or federal board or authority.

“It’s really just a matter of playing by the rules. With a city that’s in the trouble that we’re in, we really can’t risk making any missteps moving forward,” Roots said in an interview.

In a statement to WHYY News, first-term Councilmember Green affirmed his position on the stormwater authority and said he will continue to serve.

The Stormwater Authority
The Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester on East 5th Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

​​”We do not feel that we are in violation of the city charter because Title 11 of the Third-Class city code allows elected officials to sit on any boards, and this is parallel with Title 8, borough code,” Green said. “Based on this there is no conflict with us sitting on any paid board or commission.”

Dr. Horace Strand, executive director of the stormwater authority, sent a nearly identical statement. Green, who declined a phone interview, contends that the stormwater authority is “its own entity” and is not part of city government. West did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The city of Chester has been in a state of financial disarray for decades. In 2020, then-Gov. Tom Wolf appointed a state-appointed receiver to rescue the city’s finances. The receiver’s office clashed with city hall on many issues including attempts to hike the salaries of elected officials.

The receiver filed for bankruptcy on behalf of Chester in 2022 — prompting a legal battle between Chester and the state official tasked with saving the city from itself.

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Chester officials initially resigned from stormwater authority board — but eventually regained their positions

Chester City Council and then-Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland first established the authority in 2016 to provide stormwater management. Kirkland appointed West as one of the seven founding board members — alongside former Councilmember Al Jacobs.

She was set to receive an $18,000 salary as vice chair of the board. West has served on the board ever since. Kirkland appointed Green to the board in 2020.

WHYY News obtained email exchanges between city officials since Roots took office. The correspondence, received through an open records request, reveals a scuffle dating back months. However, it is unclear what or who prompted the discussion. City Solicitor Ken Schuster weighed in on the matter via email to city officials on Feb. 15.

“My opinion as Solicitor has consistently been that a member of Council may not hold any position on a paying board or authority,” Schuster said.

He added his stance has remained unchanged. Schuster said former Mayor Kirkland sought a paying board position on the Chester Water Authority.

“My unequivocal opinion was he could not hold a paying position on this authority while serving as Mayor and the nomination was withdrawn,” Schuster said.

He indicated “outside counsel” was advising council members otherwise and he welcomed further discussion. Schuster did not provide comment to WHYY News.

West responded to Schuster’s email the same day and said it was the first time she had seen his written opinion.

“This matter was researched some time ago and it was decided that myself and a former councilperson could serve on the SWA Board,” West said. “I am having this issue researched and will have an answer soon. If it turns out to be that I was ill advised; I will take the necessary steps to be in compliance.”

On Feb. 21, West tendered her resignation from the stormwater authority. The following day, City Controller Joy Taylor tendered her resignation from the board as well.

A contentious City Council meeting — and possible sanctions?

At an April 10 Council meeting, tensions boiled over between Roots and Green.

Roots said after receiving West’s resignation and hearing rumors of Green’s resignation in February, he thought he could proceed with city business.

“It led me to post that there’s vacancies on the board of which I’ve received, I think, as many as four applications to replace members on the board,” Roots said to meeting attendees. “Then, I also heard by word of mouth that both councilpersons — the one on my left and right [West and Green] — are back on the stormwater board.”

Roots asked Schuster, who was hearing the news for the very first time, if the matter could be immediately settled.

“The question I have is can these two individuals remain in their capacity as City Councilpersons while they’re in violation of the city charter?” Roots said. “Can they take part in any portion of City Council meetings? Can they vote? Does their vote count on matters brought before City Council? Should we even continue this meeting?”

He decided to publicly read aloud the section of the city charter. Green countered that the stormwater authority is not defined as city government, therefore allowing himself and West to continue serving on its board.

“The lawyers at the Chester Stormwater Authority did their research as well and they believe that we can still be on the board,” Green said. “And so therefore we’re still on the board.”

Ultimately, Schuster told attendees he would review the charter again and investigate avenues for recourse — but he said city business must continue.

“I do not believe that that violation would preclude them from being a councilperson, but I think that there could, if I’m correct, be sanctions,” Schuster said.

The matter did not come up during the most recent meeting on April 24. While Schuster does not appear to have made a final determination, Roots has his mind made up.

He told WHYY News that the council members have two options: They can step down from the stormwater authority board or resign from Council.

Roots also said he could also make the board seat a nonpaying position — or the city can demand the council members pay back all of the money they’ve earned from the stormwater authority since serving in both positions.

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