Supreme Court Won't Boot DROP Candidates From Ballot

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a group of voters seeking to remove from the May 17 primary election ballot three candidates who have or are participating in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.  That means City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione and City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, both Democrats, and Republican Councilman Frank Rizzo are free to run for re-election.

The court this afternoon posted a note on the dockets for the three cases, saying it had affirmed the March 23 ruling by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jimmy Lynn that the three candidates can remain on the ballot. 

Justice Thomas Saylor issued a dissenting statement, hitting on a key issue in the case: DROP participants make an "irrevocable commitment" to retire from city service. His statement, which was joined by Chief Justice Ron Castille, said the "supposed 'retirements' amount to a mere pretense, or sham, designed solely to obtain the lump-sum DROP benefit involved and then continue on in the same position as before."

This is a legal loss for the challengers but a political victory in that their lawsuits kept in the public eye the issue of elected officials signing up for DROP, running for re-election, retiring for one day to collect a six-figure payout and then returning to the city payroll.  That's what Tartaglione did in 2008 and it is what Tasco and Rizzo are expected to do on Dec. 30 if they are re-elected this year.

The challengers claimed the three candidates violated the "irrevocable commitment" they made to the city to retire when the entered DROP but then ran for re-election.  Lynn rejected that as "absurd and tortured thinking" after a hearing in March.  Lynn cited the opinion of two city solicitors who said the retire-for-a-day option was legal.

The challengers appealed to the state Commonwealth Court, which on April 8 decided that the case should be heard by the state Supreme Court.  But Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman wrote in the opinion sending the issue to the Supreme Court that the three candidates were eligible in her view to run for re-election.

Tartaglione collected $288,136 from DROP while Tasco is expected to collect $478,057 and Rizzo will receive $194,517.  The program allows city employees to set a retirement date up to four years in the future, with pension payments made during that time into a interest bearing account while they're still on the payroll.  The DROP payment is collected in a lump sum when they retire and start receiving pension payments.