Stu Bykofsky: Voters, ward leaders should DROP-kick the Council snout-stuffers

Posted: January 17, 2011

TWO DOWN, four to go.

On Friday, Democratic Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller announced that she would not seek re-election. Earlier, Republican Councilman Jack Kelly told me that he won't run.

Four months from today, those two names won't be on the ballot when you vote.

We're winning.

Until last week, six had signed up for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, a/k/a Taxpayer-Provided Powerball. Although DROP requires an "irrevocable" promise to retire, like zombies they planned to come back. Then it started getting hot in the kitchen.

Kelly will take his $405,438 retirement perk and leave. About his job, he says, "I've had it long enough. I want to give someone else an opportunity." In retirement, he plans to continue working on two interests - the arts and animal welfare.

Miller is walking away with $195,782.

The Final Four are President Anna Verna (she'll get $584,777 from DROP), Majority Leader Marian Tasco ($478,057), Frank DiCicco ($424,646) - all Democrats; and Republican Frank Rizzo ($194,517). That's $2.2 million getting ready to slither out the door.

In their squirrel hearts, the Final Four know that their private version of R & R - "Retiring" for a day and "Returning" to work - is a despicable sham.

But, when you are a connected Philadelphian, who cares about the rules?

Former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson ($389,000 from DROP), was "rehired" by Mayor Street after "retiring" for an instant, followed by Councilwoman Joan Krajewski ($288,136) and City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione ($308,625). Others engineered sham "retirements" before resuming their jobs - and salaries. Krajewski is really retiring this time. Honest. (She's already got the money.)

Everyone was shaking the money tree.

DROP supposedly was designed to help supervisors with planning and/or to retain skilled, veteran workers. It wasn't supposed to cost taxpayers anything.

It did. Surprise!

When one study said that it cost the city about $236 million over a decade, a shocked City Council sprang into action to demand . . . another study. (Maybe it'll turn out better for them?) DROP was harder to kill than BP's Deepwater Horizon.

The program's abuse by elected officials stunk so much that it actually goaded the state Legislature to prohibit future elected officials from DROP pork.

In a neat bit of gymnastics, DiCicco, who authored the original DROP bill but who now is scrambling for cover, said that, if re-elected, he'll donate his Council pay back to the city or charity (or Club Risque?). Thanks, Frank, but what part of "irrevocable" don't you get?

Democrat DiCicco and Republican Rizzo have declared that they will run, "retire" for the legally approved nanosecond, then "return" to work. Rizzo told me that he'll deposit his salary in a 401(k)for his family.

Credit them with the stones to announce their plans. Kelly and Miller have taken themselves out of the mix, but Tasco and Verna are mum, perhaps gauging the heat. It's up to us to bring it.

Since DROP began, 7,142 employees have collected more than $789 million. Another 2,485 employees are in the receiving line to collect perks of an estimated $274 million over the next four years.

Elvis has left the building on them. But we can demand that Council members play fair.

How low does your self-esteem have to be to vote to permit the Final Four's R & R? Knowing that the city is facing financial ruin, they not only will take the DROP payoff, but return to stuff their snouts.

Yes, the city solicitor said that it's "legal." And my wife tells me that an extra slice of pie won't make me fat. Being "legal" isn't the same thing as being "right."

Journalists have done their part by exposing DROP abuses. Since the self-serving Final Four won't go gentle into that good night, we must send them packing.

We have them on the run. If they are on the ticket, we can clean house - but why should they even be on the ballot?

I challenge Democratic and Republican ward leaders, power players all, to refuse to endorse any elected official in DROP. Step up and do the right thing.

I'll happily give coverage to any ward leader who takes the pledge to put voters first.

My contact info is just below this line.

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. This column usually appears Mondays and Thursdays. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/byko.

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