Commonwealth Court sends DROP suits to state Supreme Court

Posted: April 09, 2011

An effort to remove City Council members Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo and City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione from the May 17 primary election ballot is in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The state Commonwealth Court yesterday sent three lawsuits up the judicial ladder, saying the higher court has jurisdiction in election matters.

But an opinion by Commonwealth Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman made clear how that court would rule if the case comes back for another review.

Participation in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) does not mean that Tasco, Rizzo and Tartaglione are ineligible to seek re-election, Friedman wrote in the opinion.

The voters and attorneys who filed the lawsuits say DROP requires an "irrevocable commitment" from city employees in the program to retire.

Attorneys for Tasco, Rizzo and Tartaglione point to two opinions by city solicitors - one for Mayor John Street, the other for Mayor Nutter - that said it is legal for an elected official to retire for one day, collect a DROP payment and then go back on the city payroll after winning re-election.

That's what Tartaglione did in 2007 and what Rizzo and Tasco plan to do this year.

Common Pleas Judge Jimmy Lynn on March 23 ruled against the voters behind the lawsuits, calling there legal claims, "absurd and tortured thinking."

The voters then appealed to the 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 they remain on the city payroll. The DROP payment is collected in a lump sum when they retire.

Tasco will receive a DROP payment of $478,057 on Dec. 30 while Rizzo collects $194,517 that day. Tartaglione collected $288,136 in DROP in 2008, retired for a long weekend and then went back on the city payroll.

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