DROP no reason not to run, judge says

Posted: March 24, 2011

The court of public opinion may reflect harshly upon elected officials in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, but that won't keep them off the May 17 primary-election ballot.

Common Pleas Judge Jimmy Lynn yesterday rejected a challenge from a group of voters who claimed that participation in DROP should prevent City Council members Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo and City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione from seeking re-election.

Lynn's order said that the voters who filed the challenges in the last two weeks were asking him to rewrite city law. He added that their argument could prevent a Council member from retiring in the retirement program and then running for mayor.

"That is the absurd and tortured thinking that the petitioners bring to this litigation," Lynn wrote in his order. "An assistant district attorney with 20 years of service could not retire under DROP and later run for district attorney of Philadelphia. A police officer, firefighter or trashman with years of service could not take the DROP and then run for office. These may be the very candidates who best know the city and the issues that arise regarding its governance."

Attorneys Matt Wolfe and Joe Doherty filed the challenges, arguing that the elected officials made an "irrevocable commitment" to retire when they entered DROP, so they are now ineligible to run for re-election.

Attorneys for Tasco, Rizzo and Tartaglione countered in a hearing Friday that nothing in the state Constitution, the state election code or the city charter - the three sources of legal guidance in local elections - says that DROP disqualifies them from running for re-election.

Wolfe and Doherty said that they are considering an appeal to Commonwealth Court.

DROP allows city employees to set a retirement date up to four years in the future, with pension payments deposited into an interest-bearing account while the employees remain on the city payroll. The DROP payment is collected in a lump sum when the employee retires.

Tartaglione used a loophole in the law to collect $288,136 from DROP in January 2008, after winning another term in November 2007. She retired for one day, then returned to the city payroll.

Tasco and Rizzo have DROP retirement dates set for Dec. 30 and could follow Tartaglione's one-day retirement example if they win re-election this year.

Two city solicitors - one for former Mayor Street and the other for Mayor Nutter - have issued opinions saying that that practice is legal.

Tasco will collect $478,057 from DROP; Rizzo is due to receive $194,517.

Lynn wrote that the elected officials "reasonably relied" on the opinion of the city solicitor.

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