THE DEFERRED Retirement Option Plan has more lives than an alley cat and more twists than a Tom Clancy novel. It's all trapdoors and mirrored halls:
* When DROP was drafted
more than a decade ago, elected officials were not included.
When it was passed, they were included. Do you believe in magic?
* Everyone signing up for DROP makes an "irrevocable commitment" to retire after receiving the lump-sum payout (aka pot o' gold).
Abracadabra! Some elected officials grabbed the pot o' gold and returned to their jobs. It was "legal," we were told by city solicitors.
* Almost every story written
about the unnecessary and cost-heavy plan said city workers can enroll in DROP up to four years before retirement.
Now, shockingly, as City Council prepares to play Mr. Fix-It to reform DROP, we learn that DROP-eligible workers can sign up way in advance of the four-year limit. (Think of it as "preregistration" offered at some colleges for a really popular prof's course.)
All those currently eligible for DROP are immune from future City Council "fixes" that might change (i.e., reduce) their benefits. They are grandfathered.
Despite that, the stampede is on. Since Feb. 2, 2010, 1,520 workers have enrolled - that's more than half the total of 2,787 city workers who are in DROP.
The early-enrollment provision was unearthed by Ralph Cipriano in the City Paper. DROP is as slippery as an eel coated in extra-virgin olive oil.
What's the next surprise that will pop from DROP?
You don't have to be a city worker to enroll, just knowing one is enough? You can "post-enroll" after death? A subsection funds lap dances at Club Risque?
What the hell is going on here?
Is anything else hiding like a cockroach in the DROP language? I asked city pension board executive director Fran Bielli. He said no, adding that permission to select a distant-future date of retirement was in the language all along. The early sign-up seems to have exploded lately because DROP-eligible workers erroneously feared that the benefit might be reduced in the future.
Nothing is more devious than the human brain, especially when it's rewarded for rooting out loopholes, like pigs after truffles.
The way I interpret the city solicitor's opinion, the pension board can end the "preregistration" if it wants to. It should.
When Sam Katz, board chairman of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) - which oversees city finances - heard about the "preregistration" dodge, he was "bordering on shocked," he told me.
PICA wants DROP killed, and "the public's will clearly is to stop it," Katz said.
If City Council (which will hold DROP public hearings on Wednesday) is wondering why almost everyone in this city (except those enrolled in the warm embrace of DROP) opposes it, the latest loophole is the latest reason. Some people will cut every corner, slip into every crevice, for financial gain.
Contrary to the claims made by many enrollees, DROP is a pot o' gold, it is a Powerball payout. That's why they love it.
Now, the very idea of trying to fix it is causing a run on the bank.
Kill DROP, fast. Kill it before it kills us.
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