Is Council DROP-ing the ball?

It has been nearly two months since City Council received a long-awaited financial analysis of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, but the city's legislators have yet to schedule hearings on whether to remove or reform the controversial retirement perk.

"We are looking into it," Council President Anna Verna said yesterday. But asked if Council would schedule anything before the May 17 primary election, she said: "I can't answer that."

Council has been mum on DROP since February, when its consultant, Bolton Partners Inc., reported that DROP has cost the city $100 million since 1999. The result was far less than the $258 million price tag put on the plan in August by Boston College researchers hired by Mayor Nutter.

Yesterday, Nutter renewed his call for Council to proceed with hearings on DROP. He has sent legislation to Council to kill the program, although some members have expressed interest in modifying it instead. Either way, critics think Council won't make a move until after the primary.

"I think the public was led to believe there would be hearings on DROP once Council's study on the DROP program came out," said Ellen Kaplan, vice president of the good-government group Committee of Seventy. "It's very clear they don't want to have these hearings before the primary."

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said he would like to move on from DROP, although he did not have a position on killing or amending the program.

"I think it needs to be cost-neutral," he said. But then he added: "I know we have a perception problem."

For those running for re-election, complicating matters are the powerful city union leaders who oppose ending DROP for their members. City Solicitor Shelley Smith has provided an opinion to Council, stating that Council could kill the program, although she noted that the outcome of any court challenge was unclear.

DROP allows city employees who are eligible for retirement to collect both a city salary and a pension for up to four years after they join the program. The pension payments go into an escrow account, earning 4.5 percent interest, payable to the employee in a lump sum when he or she leaves the city payroll.

Public anger has been stoked in reaction to elected officials' participating in DROP - including a couple who signed up for it, ran for re-election, "retired" for a single day, collected six-figure DROP payments, then resumed collecting city paychecks. Two Council members enrolled in DROP - Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo - plan to run for re-election this year. Five others are retiring, including Joan Krajewski, who already took her DROP payment in 2008.

Rizzo yesterday said he expected there to be hearings but wasn't sure when. Tasco did not return a call for comment.

Future elected officials won't be allowed in DROP, under state law.