A Common Pleas Court Judge just ruled that City Council members Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo, along with City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione can appear on the May 17 primary election ballot, despite their their participation in the controversial deferred retirement option plan.
Attorneys Matt Wolfe and Joe Doherty filed lawsuits in the last two weeks for a group of voters against the three elected officials, each seeking re-election this year.
The legal argument, heard by Common Pleas Court Judge Jimmy Lynn on Friday, came down to two key issues:
- The plaintiffs said elected officials and other city employees make an "irrevocable commitment" to retire when they enter DROP so they are not eligible to participate in the program and then run for re-election.
- The elected officials in the suit argued that nothing in the state Constitution, the state election code or the City Charter -- the three sources of legal guidance in local elections -- says anything about DROP disqualifying them from running for re-election.
Lynn, in an order just released, said the plaintiffs were asking him to rewrite city law and that he had "no hesitation" in rejecting their request, adding that such an argument would prevent a City Council member to retire in the DROP program and then run for mayor.
"That is the absurd and tortured thinking that the petitioners bring to this litigation," Lynn wrote. "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."
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 are still 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 and 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, which two city solicitors have said is legal. Tasco will collect $478,057 from DROP while Rizzo is due to receive $194,517.