DROP's poster child
For such a big booster of the city's controversial DROP plan, former City Council aide Charles McPherson may soon become a high-profile poster boy for scrapping the costly and dysfunctional retirement program.
Having pocketed a $528,000 lump-sum retirement payment last year, and started collecting his $113,500 annual pension, McPherson, 60, is now in line to get his old job back advising Council on city budget issues — for up to $150,000 a year.
It will come as no surprise if Council President Anna C. Verna decides to rehire a trusted aide who spent more than 30 years working for the city.
But McPherson's return to paid status — after volunteering at Verna's side for the past year — will be further compelling proof that DROP is a costly flop.
One of the reasons for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan was to retain veteran city employees nearing retirement, while affording city managers the time to train replacements. Even that was a stretch. But when an official retires, collects the DROP check, and returns to work, it makes the program a farce.
For their part, city taxpayers have every right to suspect that the whole pension scheme is just another sweet city perk that they, the taxpayers, can't afford. While those lump-sum checks paid to DROP enrollees represent deferred pension payments that build up over four years, the employees get a now-unheard-of 4.5 percent interest on the funds.
Six Council members themselves may try a version of the retire-and-return gambit next year — by seeking reelection, even though they're due to receive hefty DROP payments at the end of 2011. If Philadelphia voters are foolish enough to reelect any of the six, the DROP-enrolled Council members — Frank DiCicco, Donna Reed Miller, Marian B. Tasco, Verna, Jack Kelly, or Frank Rizzo — could retire for one day and then take the oath of office the next.
Only under pressure from Harrisburg officials did Council vote to bar future elected officials from sidling up to the DROP trough. The rehiring of employees like McPherson, though, will continue to be possible until Council and Mayor Nutter act to scrap the DROP program for all future city employees.
Average taxpayers are already plenty outraged by other abuses of the DROP perk — especially while their property taxes are going up by almost 10 percent. So maybe the best thing Verna can do to hasten DROP's demise is to blunder ahead and hand McPherson that fat contract.