After three days of argument a judge has ruled that City Council members Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo and City Commissioner Margaret Tartaglione can run for re-election despite their enrollment in DROP.
All three sitting officials faced legal challenges to their candidacy based on the argument that they made false statements on the affidavits they filled with their nomination petitions by claiming to be eligible for the job even though their enrollment in DROP requires them to retire from that job.
The Deferred Retirement Option Plan was supposed to help city bean counters plan for the retirement of key employees over time without raising city costs. The plan allows eligible workers to pick a retirement date a set number of years in the future and accrue pension plan contributions in a tax free account while they are still working. Then, when they retire they get a tax-free, lump sum payout.
Critics have called DROP a huge waste of public dollars.
Tasco will receive $478,057 when she retires from her current term on the final week day of December, according to the Daily News. The same day Rizzo will retire and collect $194,517.
In the past, elected officials have retired for a day to collect their lump sum DROP payment and then been reelected to the same job, with the same pay rate. Tartaglione already did this once. Rizzo and Tasco are hoping to do it this election year.
In his decision Judge James Lynn called the thinking behind the challenges “absurd and tortured” because he thought it would prohibit anyone enrolled in DROP from later running for political office.
“Under the theory argued by petitioners a City Council Member who retired after accepting DROP could not later run for Mayor of Philadelphia,” Lynn wrote. Going down that path, he thought, would also prohibit other city officials enrolled in DROP from later deciding to go into politics.
During the hearing Special Counsel to Marian Tasco, Derek Green, called the lawsuit filed against his boss’ nomination “frivolous” and politically motivated. It came from relatives of Ninth District challenger Lamont Thomas, the Daily News reported.
But attorney Matthew Wolfe, who filed the challenge against Rizzo disagrees with the criticisms. During arguments at the County Board of Elections he told the judge he thought the ramifications of the DROP situation in Philadelphia impact the core of Pennsylvania election code.
In a statement released Wednesday Wolfe said he was considering an appeal to the Commonwealth Court.