News

COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY CALLS ON CITY SOLICITOR SMITH TO REVIEW DROP LOOPHOLE

PHILADELPHIA – The Committee of Seventy today asked Philadelphia City Solicitor Shelley Smith to review and consider reversing advice given by the Street administration’s City Solicitor that permits elected officials to run for reelection, retire for one day in order to receive a large lump sum DROP payment and then immediately return to office. (See below for the letter.)

The ruling by former City Solicitor Romulo Diaz is at the heart of a growing controversy over the DROP program.

Seventy just received a copy of the letter after filing a request under the Commonwealth’s Right to Know Act. It was originally sent by Diaz to City Council President Anna C. Verna on June 29, 2006.

Six members of City Council are currently enrolled in DROP and scheduled to retire before their next term would start in January 2012. However, several members have already held fundraisers. According to Seventy’s President and CEO Zachary Stalberg, this signals that some or all of these officials intend to take advantage of Solicitor Diaz’s advice. This advice would allow them to run for reelection in November 2011 and retire for one day in January 2012 to receive as much as $2.1 million in DROP benefits.

“Former City Solicitor Diaz said he could ‘identify no legal principle’ that would prohibit elected officials from retiring for one day. Perhaps Solicitor Smith’s review will lead to a different conclusion,” said Stalberg. “Council members who are enrolled in DROP aren’t breaking the rules. But the rules may well be a problem.” 

Stalberg said that Seventy’s lawyers are also taking a deeper look at Diaz’s analysis. The organization has several concerns about Solicitor Diaz’s ruling. First, the retirement of elected officials is usually decided by the voters. Secondly, Seventy does not believe that a 24 hour retirement comports with a commonsense view what it means to really retire. Furthermore, allowing elected officials to retire for one day discriminates against non-elected City employees who can’t. Current DROP rules require them to genuinely retire from city government.

“Solicitor Diaz’s sanction of this one day retirement for elected officials is starting to jeopardize DROP for all other city employees,” Stalberg noted. “That’s not fair if those officials shouldn’t be in DROP in the first place.”

Stalberg said that Seventy was pleased by Mayor Nutter’s recent support for that position. At the Mayor’s request, legislation has been introduced in City Council that would eliminate elected officials from participating in DROP after January 1, 2010. The legislation does not touch elected officials already enrolled in the program or who decide to enroll during the remainder of 2009. 

The Committee of Seventy has been fighting to get elected officials removed from DROP for a long time. It was the only organization to testify at a May 2008 hearing on legislation to accomplish this.


March 26, 2009

The Honorable Shelley R. Smith, Esquire
Philadelphia City Solicitor
1515 Arch Street, 17th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Dear Shelley:

I am writing to request that you review, and consider reversing, advice given by former City Solicitor Rumulo Diaz in a June 29, 2006 letter to City Council President Anna Verna that permits elected officials to run for reelection, retire for one day in order to receive a lump sum payment under the City’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, and then return to office the following day.
The Committee of Seventy just received a copy of the letter from the Law Department after filing a request under the Commonwealth’s Right to Know Act.

Six members of City Council are currently enrolled in DROP and scheduled to retire before their next term would start in January 2012. However, none have committed to this and several have already held fundraisers, Seventy assumes that they intend to take advantage your predecessor’s advice by running for reelection in 2011 and retiring for one day in January 2012 to collect their DROP benefits.

Seventy’s lawyers are taking a deeper look at Solicitor Diaz’s letter as well, particularly his judgment that no legal principle prohibits a one day retirement.

As we understand it, the retirement of elected officials is usually decided by the voters. We also do not believe that a 24 hour retirement comports with a commonsense view what it means to genuinely retire. Finally, we are concerned that allowing elected officials to retire for one day discriminates against non-elected City employees who are prohibited by DROP rules from doing the same.

Your prompt attention is critical. At the Mayor’s request, legislation has been introduced in City Council that would eliminate elected officials from participating in DROP after January 1, 2010. The legislation does not touch elected officials already enrolled in the program or who decide to enroll during the remainder of 2009. Your decision to reverse Solicitor Diaz’s legal advice could impact that legislation.

We appreciate your consideration of this letter. Your views will be of great interest to City residents who, according to a report on the Mayor’s public forums on the budget, expressed “fierce public outrage” over the participation of elected officials in DROP.

Sincerely,
 
Zachary Stalberg
President and CEO

About Seventy

The Committee of Seventy fights for clean and effective government, fair elections and a better informed citizenry in Philadelphia and the region.More on our mission.

Contact

Zack Stalberg
President & CEO
215-557-3600

Back to top