By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Former City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown previously pledged not to enroll in the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
But weeks after taking a $102,000-a-year job in the Office of the Register of Wills, Reynolds Brown appears likely to do just that and secure a significant city payout upon retirement.
Reynolds Brown applied to the Board of Pensions to take part in the program, known as DROP, on Feb. 18, confirmed Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the Kenney administration, in an email on Monday in response to a Philadelphia Tribune request made on Feb. 19.
The application continues to be processed, so Reynolds Brown’s DROP end date remains unknown, Dunn said.
DROP allows city employees to work up to four years as their pension benefits accumulate in an interest-bearing account, while still earning a city salary. Upon retirement, employees receive the accumulated balance in their DROP account, in addition to their monthly pension benefit.
Reynolds Brown said eight years ago that she would never enroll in DROP.
But she said in a statement this week that she inquired about the DROP program to see what benefits were available to her during her time as a city employee.
“I am weighing my options and I have not made a final determination at this time,” she said in the statement.
Register of Wills Tracey Gordon appointed Brown as her director of strategic partnerships days after Gordon was sworn into office in January.
Reynolds Brown earned approximately $137,000 a year while on City Council. Last year, Reynolds Brown did not seek re-election for the at-large council seat she held since 2000. Her monthly DROP payments would be calculated as of the day before her DROP enrollment date.
Reynolds Brown previously said she would not enroll in DROP. When asked in December about her interest in the program upon retiring from City Council, Reynolds Brown said, “It’s nobody’s business but mine.”
DROP was introduced by then-Mayor Ed Rendell in 1999 with the intention of maintaining talented top employees on the job longer. Between 1999 and 2015, DROP has cost taxpayers between $239.9 million and $277.2 million, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
Gordon announced Reynolds Brown’s appointment in an Instagram post in January; the post has since been removed.
Gordon said in a released statement that Reynolds Brown was responsible for the office’s “preservation efforts” and creating public-private partnerships to maintain records.
“Councilwoman Reynolds Brown has been a well known advocate for historic preservation and in her time in city council successfully fought for legislation to increase funding in maintaining the city’s history,” Gordon said.
Mustafa Rashed, president of Bellevue Strategies and spokesman for Gordon, said the city’s pension board has not notified Gordon of Reynolds Brown’s intent to enter DROP. But if Reynolds Brown does enroll in the program, “the office is prepared to work with her for a smooth transition.”
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.