While one tax activist said bringing back McPherson on contract after handing him a hefty DROP payoff subverted the purpose of DROP, Verna made it clear that Council was in no hurry to consider Nutter's bill and end the program. She also defended her enrollment in DROP, which leaves her in line to collect $584,000 when she retires.
McPherson retired as Council's chief financial officer in April 2009 after 36 years but kept his office and his role, working without a salary until Thursday's contract award.
McPherson was not available for comment. Verna said Council had put the contract for providing financial and budget advice up for bid but had chosen him because "we think we are getting more for the buck with Mr. McPherson and Econsult."
Council awarded $25,000 of the work to Econsult/Fairmount Group, which had a similar contract that expired in April.
Brett Mandel, former head of the tax-reform organization Philadelphia Forward, said giving city work to people who had taken their DROP payments subverted the program's purpose. Used properly, DROP could help the city plan for retirements of key employees such as McPherson, Mandel said. But giving McPherson the work shows a lack of planning.
"The fact that they didn't shows they were either asleep at the switch and were inattentive managers or they had no intention of replacing him," Mandel said.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez agreed that Council could have prepared better for McPherson's departure.
She said she hoped that would be part of what he'd do now, and said McPherson and Econsult had been crucial this year in helping Council come up with budget fixes that were less expensive to taxpayers than those Nutter had proposed.
McPherson and Econsult will work for the city through June. Three other companies bid for the contracts. Council has yet to release their names.
DROP stands for Deferred Retirement Option Program. It allows employees to pick a retirement date up to four years in the future. That decision freezes their pension payment and prompts the city to start accruing the employee's pension benefit in an account that bears 4.5 percent interest. Upon retirement, the employee gets the amount in the account in a lump sum and begins collecting a monthly pension at the lower, frozen amount.
Thursday's session after the summer recess was in many ways mundane and predictable, but the DROP debate provided moments of drama.
As Council members discussed their agenda for the day, Tasco joked about the anticipation over the bill she introduced for Nutter by putting her hands around her mouth to amplify her voice and saying: "Are you all listening? It's about DROP."
Later, when Council's session ended, about 10 reporters swarmed Verna to ask about the pension perk.
Some of the questions were about her decision to enroll in the program. She stands to collect a DROP payment of about $584,000.
She argued that she had saved the city money because she had worked for the Philadelphia for nearly 60 years and could have started collecting her pension many years ago.
"I'm actually losing money if you look at the figures," she said.
Nutter has called to end DROP, citing a Boston College study he commissioned that said DROP had cost the city an extra $258 million during the last 10 years.
But Verna said Council would not decide any time soon.
"I think that some of the figures that were in that report are questionable," she said.
Council has hired its own expert to review that study and awaits an opinion from City Solicitor Shelley Smith on whether DROP may be a legally protected pension benefit.
Many lawyers have said laws may protect DROP, and the city's four unions have been pressing that case.
"I'm not really concerned about it because it's part of our contract," said John McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Nutter dismissed the legal questions.
"They're more of a distraction than anything else," he said.
He said that because Council had created the program, Council could end it, and that the cost of DROP was not tenable in a city that lacked sufficient money for parks, police, and other basic services.
"Every day of delay costs the city money," Nutter said.
Contact staff writer Miriam Hill
at 215-854-5520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.