Two outgoing members of Philadelphia City Council said Thursday that they hope to stay on the city payroll after they leave office in January, and one may be eligible for a hefty payout under a controversial retirement program if she chooses to enroll in it.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a Democrat, and Councilman Al Taubenberger, a Republican, said they hope to rejoin city government after their terms end next month. They both attended the last Council meeting of their careers as elected members on Thursday.
“I hope so,” Brown said when asked if she would stay in city government. “I have a couple of options in front of me, and I need to make a decision by the first of the year. I’m not going to reveal what they are. I’ve turned down two nonprofits. I’ve declined a corporate opportunity. So I’m weighing what’s in front of me.”
Brown previously said she would not enroll in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, when controversy surrounding the program was roiling City Hall. On Thursday, she declined to say whether she would enroll if she took a city job next year.
“It’s nobody’s business but mine,” Brown said.
DROP, a retirement perk for municipal workers that has cost several Council members their political careers, allows employees to pick a retirement date up to four years in the future, then immediately start accumulating pension payments in an interest-bearing account while still earning a salary. They collect a lump sum upon retirement, sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their pensions are frozen at the level earned at the time they signed up for the program.
The program was intended to make city government more efficient by allowing managers to plan for employees’ exits in advance, but has been criticized for allowing workers, especially elected officials, to “double-dip" by simultaneously earning salaries and accruing pension payouts.
Brown declined to say which city offices she was in talks with for a potential job. “I’m meeting with a lot of different people so I make the appropriate right decisions," she said.
Jim Engler, Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief of staff, said Brown was not in the running for any job in executive branch offices that report to the mayor. “The administration is not in talks or discussions with either Council member to bring them into the administration,” Engler said.
That would not include city government offices controlled by one of the other elected officials. In Philadelphia, the city commissioners, city controller, district attorney, sheriff, register of wills, and local judges are all independently elected.
Taubenberger said he had no immediate prospects with the city but hoped to discuss the possibility with Kenney at some point.
“I have a degree in agriculture, landscaping, and parks," he said. "I ran Friends Hospital for a number of years, hundred acres and a large crew. I also have experience in dealing with small business, so I think there might be an area where I can be of help.”
Taubenberger took office after the passage of a DROP reform measure that prevents him from using his four years as an elected official when calculating a potential DROP payout.
“I’m not worried about DROP,” he said. “If you talk to me in another 10 years and I’ve been here 10 more years, then maybe I’ll talk about DROP, depending on my economic needs and what I have the rights to do.”