Yeadon Borough Council called a special meeting for Thursday, ostensibly to fire Police Chief Anthony “Chachi” Paparo over part-time hiring practices said to have cost the municipality $387,000 over the past two years and a subsequently settled union grievance.
Yet after two closed-door sessions during the meeting, the council chose to delay its decision — to grant Paparo and his attorneys “due process” and to rebut claims of racism that have been brewing for weeks.
Though the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police likely won’t be coming to Paparo’s rescue, a room full of mostly Black residents had it covered.
Paparo’s defense — echoed by more than 1,000 signers of a petition to “Keep Chief Chachi” — is that he is losing his job because he is white. Supporters of the chief in the majority Black borough point to his community initiatives, decreasing crime in the area, and his dedication to the job as the reason he should keep his title.
Borough officials and the residents who packed into the meeting engaged in a two-hour-long shouting match. At the start, emotional community members had to be silenced with the gavel.
As Council President Sharon Council-Harris read her report through constant interruptions from the audience, council members Liana Roadcloud and LaToya Monroe, two supporters of the chief, brought a motion to the floor to remove the president from her position.
The borough solicitor batted it down between verbal jabs from the elected officials.
Earlier this week, Council-Harris gave Paparo a chance to resign on his own terms with three months’ salary — which he declined.
Before heading into the first closed-door session of Thursday’s meeting, Council-Harris reflected on Paparo’s hiring back in 2018 and denied allegations that the chief could possibly be fired because he is white.
“We made that decision out of nine candidates, three of whom were African American, one who worked for the state Attorney General’s Office. We selected him. And so making that decision, we felt that he was the best qualified fit for Yeadon at that time,” she said.
To which the crowd responded in unison, “And still is!”
As the council left for its private first session, audience members preached their support for the chief and accused elected leaders of violating the Sunshine Law. When the council returned and advised that there would be another closed-door meeting, Roadcloud and Monroe stayed behind to speak to anxious community members.
Roadcloud said the push to remove Paparo was due to cronyism.
“And this is what we get. So we all got to take a little bit of responsibility, but we’re going to learn from this. Chief Chachi is the best soul to turn this community around,” Roadcloud said. “…That man is being railroaded.”
She concluded by calling Paparo “honorary Black History candidate this month.”
After being urged by the residents to speak, Monroe lit into her fellow council members for scheduling the meeting at 2 p.m. in a smaller room in the building to “inconvenience” people. She said that the community needs to do better.
“When you surround yourself with people of the same ilk to do harm, this is what we get. Council member Roadcloud and I don’t need to be back there for them to tell us what the right thing to do is. We don’t need to be lectured by a solicitor about the legality of this situation. Where’s this man’s due process?” Monroe said.
Though it was unclear who exactly had made them, Monroe bashed signs placed near a podium, presumably by one of her colleagues: One was a blown-up screenshot of a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the situation; the other, a giant check made out to “16 Full-Time Yeadon Police Officers Disregarded by Chief Chachi” in the amount of $387,000.
Right before their colleagues returned, Monroe and Roadcloud accused Council Vice President Learin Johnson of repeatedly reiterating the need for a Black police chief in Yeadon. Johnson is said to have called one of Paparo’s officers to offer the top cop job. Monroe even recalled a story from when they were interviewing prospective police chiefs in which Johnson called a candidate a “handsome Black man.”
“I immediately stopped the interview process, asked him to leave, and said that this was inappropriate and we should not have these discussions. If we’re not commenting on the race or appearance of every candidate, we will not do the same for this one — and we invited that man back in here and insisted she [Johnson] apologize,” Monroe said.
In an interview with WHYY News, Johnson disputed the claims made by Monroe. She said she was “stunned that people could lie as if they’re telling the truth.”
“I never made a comment about anyone being handsome. Monroe never stopped the meeting to tell me that I made an inappropriate comment, because she was not the president of council. President Sharon Council-Harris, the current president, was also president at that time, and she can corroborate my statements. None of what [Monroe] said was true,” Johnson said.
She added that she believes “they’re just trying to enhance this racist, this bigotry thing that they have going [on].”
On reentering the chamber, Council-Harris announced there would be no firing of the chief for now in the interest of due process. She said that there shouldn’t be any “appearance of unfairness.”
“When someone is going to have a separation from their employment, they should be offered the opportunity to present their side of the story,” Council-Harris said.
She noted that Paparo has had three opportunities to do so already, but he declined. However, she said he probably needed to speak with his attorneys. Once Paparo does have that opportunity to respond, only then will an action be taken, Council-Harris said.
It was unclear from the meeting whether Paparo would remain on the job.
“Although the chief is not a civil service position, nevertheless the chief should be provided with due process, right, and we will provide the chief with due process … I will be in touch with him regarding that time frame for that hearing to give him an opportunity to be heard,” Borough Solicitor Mark Much said.
Community members didn’t bite their tongues when it came time for public comment following the news that the situation would be drawn out for the foreseeable future.
Resident Toni Truehart was irritated with the conduct of the elected leaders, the “unethical” check placed near the podium, and the “blatant disrespect” to her neighbors.
“Madam President, Madam Vice President, you do not have the character or the ability to do your job, and you need to step down,” Truehart said.
Patricia Shannon, a resident of Yeadon for 32 years, started her comment off by trying to cool tensions and said that she had watched Council-Harris’ kids grow as a neighbor. However, she disagreed with Council-Harris about Paparo.
“Chief Chachi, I’ve emailed you on several concerns of mine, and you’ve always responded to me — always. And I have not had that kind of communication. And I knew I wouldn’t get it in Philadelphia. Also, if you read the Inquirer, Philadelphia is grappling with problems with police officers who are not showing up and getting paid, getting paid 600 of them plus. We ain’t got that problem here,” Shannon said.
Toward the close of the meeting, Council-Harris and Roadcloud argued once again. They were interrupted by council member Carlette Brooks, who offered an apology to the people of Yeadon for “allowing herself” to be pulled out of character by the emotions of the day.
Editor’s note: Police Chief Anthony Paparo was subsequently fired during a Feb. 17 Borough Council meeting. On March 7, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the council. He is seeking reinstatement, as well as lost wages and damages.