Register of Wills uses patronage to keep job

Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci just provided another reason why his elected office should be eliminated. Or, at the very least, he should be voted out of office.

Donatucci, who has been described as the prince of patronage, reportedly offered two taxpayer-funded jobs in exchange for getting a challenger to withdraw from the upcoming primary election.

Register of Wills Ron Donatucci

This is what passes for a free election in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy.

Donatucci is rightly running scared this election season. That’s because he is one of the poster boys for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP).

Donatucci signed up for the lucrative DROP pension perk four years ago. In doing so, he signed an irrevocable agreement that said he would retire at the end of this year. In return, Donatucci stands to receive a $370,000 DROP payment, and a generous monthly pension.

But instead of taking the DROP money and going away, Donatucci plans to exploit a loophole by retiring for one day at the end of his term and, if reelected, returning for a new four-year term.

Voters are rightly outraged by the abuse of the DROP loophole. Sensing the voter anger against incumbents, several other elected officials have decided to retire rather than tarnish their reputations by collecting the DROP check and returning to office.

Rather than leave his fate to voters, Donatucci came up with another plan. Donatucci told The Inquirer he agreed to have ward leader John P. Sabatina Sr. send him applicants for two patronage jobs in his office. In return, Sabatina would drop his candidacy against Donatucci.

Now, Donatucci apparently has a clear path to get reelected. The Register of Wills office, which has about 65 employees, has long been a patronage bastion. Many workers are ward leaders and committee members who help grease the political machine.

The Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group, has called for eliminating the Register of Wills — which issues marriage licenses and maintains records related to wills and estates — and transferring that work to Orphans Court.

A study by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) said eliminating this elected row office and others, including the sheriff’s office, could save taxpayers millions. The study found the row offices spent twice the median amount per case, compared with 14 of Pennsylvania’s most populous counties.

The city’s budget is already overstretched, and overtaxed. Donatucci’s payroll padding is just one more reason why not only he, but his entire office, needs to go.