Philip Ahr resigns as Radnor Township board president amid child porn allegations

Radnor Township Commissioner Phil Ahr is walked to his arraignment at District Court in Newtown Square on charges of distributing and possessing child pornography Wednesday October 11, 2017. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Philip Ahr has resigned as Radnor Township Board of Commissioners president for “personal reasons,” but will continue to serve as a commissioner, according to a resignation letter released Monday, nearly two weeks after he was charged with distributing and receiving child pornography.

The board did not elect Ahr’s replacement, however, after two separate nominations failed in 3-3 votes along party lines at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening.

Ahr, 66, of Bryn Mawr, was arrested and charged on Oct. 11 with numerous felony counts. Authorities said that since at least 2013, Ahr sent and received hundreds of images of child sexual abuse — some involving infants and toddlers, others depicting sadomasochistic abuse and abuse involving children and animals.

His preliminary hearing on the charges is set for Thursday.

Ahr’s resignation on Friday came three days before the board was scheduled to hold its bimonthly meeting, at which acting President Elaine Schaefer said the board intended to vote to replace Ahr as president if he had not already resigned. No one can be voted off the board unless convicted of a crime, according to its charter.

A two-paragraph letter to Township Manager Robert Zienkowski — signed by Ahr, who is free on $100,000 bail — read in part: “Although I will continue to serve as commissioner of the Seventh Ward, the duties and the responsibilities of president of the board are demanding and personal reasons necessitate that I vacate my position as president of the board effective this date.”

Some township residents in the audience scoffed and laughed to themselves as the letter was read aloud at Monday’s meeting. “What?” someone exclaimed at the reading of “personal reasons.”

Ahr, a Democrat whose ward encompasses parts of Bryn Mawr and Villanova, was not present at the meeting.  He had also been absent from the two other board meetings that had been held since the criminal investigation began last month.

During public comment, several residents addressed the board, voicing concern about the Seventh Ward effectively being left unrepresented and asking whether anything could be done to remove Ahr before his case is adjudicated. Ahr “has not been here to add the Seventh Ward voices to the township matters,” said Jane Galli, a Seventh Ward resident who has run against Ahr for commissioner in the past. “Perhaps it is time to change our charter to allow for an ad-hoc commissioner at large.”

“For people in the Seventh Ward, this is not fair, what is happening to them,” said Jerry O’Connor of Garrett Hill. “Get him off of the board completely and move on.”

Others, such as Wayne resident Dan Sherry Jr., had questions regarding a board vote at an Oct. 9  meeting — two days before Ahr was charged — to remove Ahr as president as he was being investigated. The motion, brought by Republican Richard Booker, failed in a 3-3 vote along party lines, with Democrats Schaefer, John Nagle, and James Higgins voting against Ahr’s removal.

“What did the three members on or before Oct. 9, 2017, know about Phil Ahr? Specifically, what were they told?” Sherry said. “Did you think [the criminal investigation] was about unpaid meter tickets?”

Schaefer said earlier this month that board members did not know the nature of the crimes being investigated prior to Ahr’s arrest.

The details of the investigation were sealed until Ahr was charged, and a criminal complaint laid out in graphic detail Ahr’s alleged behavior in illicit online chatrooms, sometimes under the username “Daddy X” or “Daddy XX.”

A day after the charges were filed, Ahr, a marketing director at Progressive Business Publications, was placed on administrative leave from the Malvern company, for which he has worked for more than 40 years. For nearly two decades of that tenure, Ahr also mentored at-risk schoolchildren through a company program.

Over the last month, Ahr has not responded to multiple requests for comment. At his arraignment, both he and his attorney, Mark P. Much, declined to answer reporters’ questions. Later calls to Much’s office in Media and Ahr’s home were not returned.

Controversy has surrounded board presidents in recent times. Just one day after Ahr was charged, former Board President Bill Spingler was sentenced to probation for allegedly groping his 103-year-old mother-in-law at her Wayne nursing home last year.

Earlier, Higgins stepped down as president in April 2016 after he inserted nearly $1 million into a storm-water management budget after it had been passed. Higgins said the insertion was a mistake.

Ahr, a husband and father of two grown children, became a commissioner in January 2016 and three months later became president.

On Monday, Schaefer moved for a vote to elect Nagle as Ahr’s successor and Republican Luke Clark as vice president until Nov. 28, and then have Nagle and Clark switch positions until the end of the year.

“That lacks stability,” Booker said.

“I’d like to see us move in the direction of splitting the leadership of the board,” Higgins said, adding that many residents have requested greater bipartisan leadership on the board and less political bickering.

The vote was tied, and Republican Donald Curley then moved to elect Clark as president, with a Democrat serving as vice president, but that vote also failed along party lines.

Because the board did not elect a new president, Schaefer will continue to act as president, at least until the next board meeting in two weeks.