Should PERS have full public disclosure

Should information on retirees from the Public Employee Retirement System be made accessible to public disclosure?

This hot-button issue has recently reached a crescendo in the media, with a ruling in a case between PERS and The Oregonian and The Statesman Journal in favor of public disclosure by the Attorney General. As a result, an opposing bill is being introduced in the current Legislature.

Oregon Representative Mike McLane is in favor of PERS information being made public. He noted however, that the Oregon House Committee on Business and Law is introducing a bill during this Legislative session that would prohibit the state from releasing the names of Public Employees Retirement System retirees.

“The public are the employers, and have the obligation of the PERS retirement packages, and those liabilities are not all disclosed during our budget discussions,” said McLane. “Having disclosure of the PERS liability and that information is critically important.”

He added, however, that citizens have certain rights to protect their identity, and public employment doesn’t waive all of those rights.
“There needs to be a negotiated way to accommodate both agendas.”

McLane said he is still waiting for the specific language of the bill, but he hasn’t been presented with an argument so far that justifies the release of names as a necessary element of disclosure to PERS information.

In August 2010, The Oregonian submitted a request to PERS under the Public Records Law for an electronic copy of the records of every PERS retiree whose annual retirement benefits exceeded $100,000. The request also included the name, retirement date, employers, years of service, job classification, final average salary, regular monthly payment, and any other monthly benefit.

The same month and year, The Statesman Journal also submitted a request to PERS for information of each retiree in the PERS system, including name, employer at time of retirement, annual pay at time of retirement, monthly retirement benefits now received, the PERS plan they retired under, the formula used to calculate their retirement, and whether they received health benefits through PERS.

PERS denied both requests, and in December of 2010, PERS filed an action in Marion County against The Statesman Journal and The Oregonian. In its complaint, PERS alleged that the records requested were exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Law.

According to the documents in the recent ruling issued by Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, PERS was ordered to release public information requests for current PERS retirees to The Oregonian and The Statesman Journal. On Nov. 21, 2011, PERS was to disclose the name of every retired member of PERS who received a service or disability retirement allowance and the amount of the allowance.

On March 9, 2012, PERS will be required to disclose to both The Oregonian and The Statesman Journal information for PERS members including the method used to calculate the member’s retirement allowance, their final salary, the PERS plan under which they retired, the member’s retirement date, and their years of service.

At this time, this will include 110,000 current PERS retirees. Many retirees are wary about the ruling, but by all appearances, PERS has little legal ground to fight the order.

Greg Munn, interim business manager for Crook County School District, works with the fiscal portion of PERS retirement for classified and certified employees in the school district.
“I can understand both sides of it,” noted Munn. “I think from a public perspective – It’s public information, just release it. We have nothing to hide — just release it.”
Munn said that with the current state of the economy, PERS has become a public liability.

“There’s only two ways to fund PERS — you either fund it through contributions or earnings. So if the earnings go down, the contributions have to go up.”

He said this means that there is less money to spend on paper and pencils, and less money to spend on teachers because they have to take that money and shift it.
“We have no control over it,” noted Munn.

“As the income in the state that gets passed on to the public sector or even to schools goes down, the cost to operate the schools because of what is happening in the market (in PERS) is going up. The two lines on the graph are going exactly the wrong direction.”

Munn added that the really big concern is the data that indicates that Oregon is approaching a large sum of individuals who will be retiring in the next five years.

“All of a sudden they become a liability to the system, because the system will start making payments,” explained Munn. “So you have this big elephant that is just down the road a ways.”
Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha said although he has no problem complying with making PERS information public, it does become time-intensive for records older than four years.

The Oregon Legislature meets this month for a 35-day short session. In theory, the bill, if approved, would override part of the out-of-court settlement reached last year between the PERS board and The Oregonian and The Statesman Journal newspapers. If it goes through, it could block the March information release.

Link: Should PERS have full public disclosure

Connect With Mike

Use the link above to add Mike to your Facebook and keep up to date on what Mike is doing for House District 55 and Oregon.

Tell a Friend

Like what Mike has to say? Let your friends know by clicking here

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend