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High profile city employees have gone the DROP route for years. They’ve "retired," collected a lump sum of cash by cashing in their Deferred Retirement Option Program payment and then come back to work for the city days, months or years later. In 2011, the controversy surrounding DROP led to six council members resigning or losing their seat. Jim Kenney was not one of them. He didn’t use DROP and was outspoken against it as a councilman, calling for the program to be eliminated.
Now it appears Kenney is cool with DROP — for the right employees.
The Inquirer revealed last week Kenney’s chief tech officer, Charles Brennan, took a DROP payment of $337,695 in 2006 when he retired from the police department. He now makes $165,000 a year in his current position. Mitchell J. Yanak retired from the police department in 2003, took a $99,537 DROP payment and now makes $142,800.
Jim Kenney’s director of communications, Lauren Hitt, told the newspaper "It was decided that their decision to take DROP was not a disqualification because they both retired from the city many years ago and clearly did not intend to abuse DROP. While Mayor Kenney personally doesn’t support DROP, he can’t fault highly qualified city employees for appropriately utilizing a benefit that’s available to them."
The statement stands in stark contrast with what Hitt said in January while expressing Kenney’s thoughts about City Commissioner Anthony Clark. Clark, who’s been accused of rarely going to work and didn’t vote in several elections despite being in charge of them, filed for DROP. He’ll be able to receive $495,000 when his current four-year term ends. The Inquirer wrote of the Kenney administration’s reactions like this:
"Word of his signing on for DROP drew a swift rebuke from the new mayor. ‘It’s a slap in the face to all Philadelphians,’ Mayor Kenney said Thursday night through spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, ‘especially all our city workers who show up and do their jobs well every day.’
Hitt confirmed to Billy Penn the above quote was intended to be about Clark’s decision to apply for DROP. But she doesn’t see this as a change in stance.
"Brennan and Yanak retired from the PPD 10 and 13 years ago, respectively, where they did excellent work," Hitt said. "Clark is regularly absent from work and despite being in charge of the City’s elections, didn’t even vote – I’m not sure you could find many Philadelphians who would classify him as a "highly-qualified city employee."
We followed up by asking whether Kenney is of the opinion it’s OK for people to take DROP if they are good employees and don’t work for the city for a while? She responded, "What Clark did is a slap in the face because he added insult to injury. He doesn’t show up to vote, he doesn’t show up to work and now he’s going to collect the DROP. If you don’t show up to work, you shouldn’t get a salary let alone a retirement package.
"As a result, there’s no contradiction with what I send this week regarding Brennan and Yanak. Clark isn’t a ‘high-quality employee,’ he’s an elected official with an abysmal attendance record, and he’s not ‘appropriately utilizing’ DROP."
But Kenney’s position on DROP for Brennan and Yanak doesn’t square with his past statements, either during his time on Council and or on the campaign trail. He reminded people last year while he was running for mayor he voted against DROP. In a fundraising email, Kenney criticized mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham for taking DROP and speaking against legislation he had sponsored that led to larger payments for retirees when the city’s pension fund outperforms its goals.
Earlier this month, it was also reported Kenney decided against hiring John T. McGrath as fire chief because he had taken a partial DROP payment. Hitt said no prospective candidate for that position was disqualified due to their history with DROP.
We rate Kenney’s statement of support for Brennan and Yanak on taking DROP payments a full flop.
Committee of Seventy, "In the Know: DROP -- What's Next?," May 18, 2011.
Lauren Hitt, email interview.
Newsworks, "A DROP foe as city councilman, Mayor Kenney no longer wants to eliminate pension perk," January 21, 2016.
Philadelphia Inquirer, "City employees still taking DROP money and coming back," April 14, 2016.
Philadelphia Inquirer, "City elections chief set to cash in on DROP," January 9, 2016.
Philadelphia Inquirer, "Sources: Former Va. fire chief to head Philly department," April 9, 2016.
Philadelphia, "Lynne Abraham goes nuclear on Jim Kenney," February 20, 2015.
Philadelphia Tribune, "Pension issues dog mayor, council candidate," March 17, 2015.
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