by Max Brantley
The legislative joint retirement committee is meeting today and Twitterers indicate there's some discussion about the practice of keeping public employee retiree benefits secret. Rep. Allen Kerr has asked for an attorney general's opinion on the matter.
It seems clear to me. Absent specific secrecy for the information in the law (there is some ambiguous language in retirement system statutes, but not the FOI law), the information should be open just as public payrolls are. The benefits are supported by public contributions and paid in recognition of public employment. The Freedom of Information law clearly requires release of all the information necessary to figure public retirement benefits -- a public payroll record for the affected employeex and the formulas by which a particular employee's benefits would be figured. But it would be difficult to search all the various sources over a period of many years to compile the specifics. Clearly, it would be easier to go to the quasi-public agency that cuts the checks to get the amount. For now, they refuse and cite exemptions for employees' personal records. Does that preclude releasing the list of amounts paid each month?
Secrecy has developed over time, legally or otherwise, as a favor to retirees. Some public offiicials are understandably reticent, with their triple counting of years of service, to reveal the enlarged benefits they are receiving. The secret benefits have been the least of the buddy-buddy abuses in the good-ol'-boy retiree systems. Worse have been the dubious double-dipping schemes that finally grew into a multi-million-dollar scandal that Kerr's inquiries have blown open Good for him and for those working to clean it up. How about some more sunshine, Mr. Attorney General?