It's no secret that Oregon's retirement system for public employees has an insatiable appetite for tax dollars.
Yet PERS officials still possess dark closets in which they shelter certain information.
And PERS defends those sanctuaries with the dogged determination of a machine gun crew in a World War I pillbox.
The Oregonian wants to give state residents a peek into those bunkers.
Oregon's Attorney General, John Kroger, in effect handed the key to the state's largest newspaper.
PERS, predictably, lawyered up.
At issue is The Oregonian's request, under the state's public records
law, for data on all PERS retirees whose yearly retirement benefits
Kroger, one of whose goals is to lop off loopholes from the public
records law, ordered PERS to give The Oregonian the records it asked
PERS hired a lawyer, who has asked a Marion County judge to issue an injunction overriding Kroger's order.
PERS argues, as it did when The Oregonian made a similar request in
2002, that disclosing retirees' benefits invades their privacy without
any compelling public benefit.
The benefit, PERS, is that the taxpayers learn more about what happens to the dollars siphoned from their paychecks.
Considering that taxpayers have little if any influence on how much of
their earnings is directed to PERS, it seems to us a minor concession
to at least allow them a glimpse at where some of the money goes.
Baker City officials, for instance, estimate that the city's PERS bill will rise by about $70,000 in the next fiscal year.
City residents will no doubt be curious about this. And The Oregonian
and John Kroger, to their credit, believe we ought to be able to
satisfy that curiosity.
As for the notion that releasing retirement benefit records
constitutes, as PERS contends, an "unreasonable invasion of privacy"
that would be "highly offensive" to retirees, that's an even less
Citizens are entitled to know the salary of any public employee in
Oregon while that person is working. So we're confounded as to why that
right should dissolve as soon as the employee starts drawing a
retirement check. The money comes from the same source, after all.
The legal grounds for PERS' obstinacy are shaky, too. Oregon's public
records law doesn't exempt pension benefits from public disclosure.
In fact the foundation of PERS argument seems to be that, well, we've
not disclosed retiree benefits before, so why should we now?
"Over the years, the advice we received from the attorney general was
consistent with (not disclosing)," said PERS Executive Director Paul
There's a new attorney general in town. And fortunately, he seems to
understand what the "public" in the public records law really means.