Challenger slams O’Neill on DROP plan he’s not enrolled in

    Northeast Philadelphia City Council candidate Bill Rubin is airing a hard-hitting TV ad attacking his opponent, Republican City Councilman Brian O’Neill.

    Maybe too hard-hitting.

    Listen to this line, which refers to the widely reviled Deferred Retirement Option Plan:

    “Brian O’Neill voted to create the DROP program so he could pocket a half a million in cash while still collecting his six-figure salary. It’s a scam on us.”

    If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d conclude that O’Neill took a fat lump sum retirement check while he continues to collect his Council pay.

    Not so.

    O’Neill is eligible for the DROP program and filed initial paperwork for it, but he’s never actually entered DROP and has publicly promised never to do so.

    I called Rubin and asked if he was misleading voters.

    Nope, he said.

    “It’s an honest ad,” Rubin told me. “It’s what’s going on. We have several instances of (Council members) doing that. It’s what the system is.”

    If you follow city politics, you know that DROP has swept through Philadelphia politics like the black plague, ending the careers of several Council members.

    Under DROP, a veteran city official can pick a retirement date up to four years in advance, start accruing pension payments in an interest-bearing account, and leave with a lump sum payment. It wasn’t intended for elected officials, but since they weren’t specifically excluded, several have cashed in for big checks.

    O’Neill said in 2007 he was considering DROP, and he filed the initial application, which you can find here. His campaign consultant Christopher Nicholas said the application was the only way he could find out what he would get if he enrolled. The application makes it clear that its submission does not constitute a final decision to enroll in the plan.

    O’Neill never followed through, and is not a DROP participant.

    Earlier this year, Rubin challenged O’Neill to file a written waiver with the pension board precluding himself from ever getting into DROP.

    O’Neill declined, and when I asked him about it, he told he hasn’t enrolled in DROP and never will, end of story.

    Rubin’s campaign manager Dave Mellet pointed out that O’Neill never took any action in Council to get elected officials out of the program. O’Neill’s campaign consultant said he never heard Rubin complain about elected officials getting DROP payments when his boss, City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione, did just that four years ago.

    The bottom line seems to be that O’Neill flirted with the idea of cashing in and still could someday, but he hasn’t done it and has promised not to.

    Rubin’s ad pushes the DROP envelope a little too far.

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