Why has our Santa Barbara or all County and State media not taken a similar course of action. With regards to investigating the SBCERS Pension and other State and County funds for possible additional corruption?
Press Democrat sues for release of pension records
By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Press Democrat has sued the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association in an effort to to force the disclosure of public pension records.
The move follows numerous public records requests by the newspaper seeking the names and pension payments made to Sonoma County government retirees.
SCERA officials have denied those requests, saying a state law governing county-run pension systems, including Sonoma County’s, requires that such information not be disclosed.
But the California Supreme Court and state Attorney General have in the past overruled similar claims about the confidentiality of government salaries, concluding that the public has the right to such information, attorneys for The Press Democrat wrote in a lawsuit filed Friday.
Judges in four California counties also have concluded recently that such pension information should be made public.
“Nevertheless, SCERA insists on keeping the public in the dark about the identities of retired Sonoma County employees who collect large pensions funded by taxpayers,” the lawsuit states.
Catherine Barnett, executive editor of The Press Democrat, said Friday the information sought serves an important public objective.
“There is only one way to make informed choices as politicians grapple with the growing discontent over the disparity between public and private pensions. And that is to know the dollars and cents of these pension amounts,” she said.
SCERA officials said Friday that they needed more time to review the lawsuit before offering any detailed comments.
“The Board has carefully reviewed the previous requests by The Press Democrat and believes there are serious legal issues regarding the release of confidential information about retirees,” said Jerry Allen, chairman of SCERA’s board of trustees.
Taxpayer anger over the skyrocketing cost of public pensions has fueled the standoff between media organizations and pension overhaul advocates on one side and public pension systems on the other over the release of records.
In the wake of the recent court decisions, four county-run pension systems in the state, including Marin County, have voluntarily disclosed their records.
Holdouts include Sacramento County, where pension officials have appealed a court ruling that would have forced them to turn over records. SCERA joined in that appeal in August after declining another of The Press Democrat’s public records requests.
A group of former county workers who receive benefits from SCERA, the Sonoma County Association of Retired Employees, has not taken an official position on whether pension records should be made public.
Carol Bauer, the group’s president, said she suspected many of the members would prefer not to have their names and pension payments published.
“We think that SCERA has some right to anonymity,” she said.
SCERA oversees retirement benefits for nearly 8,000 current and former local government employees, most of them connected with the county.
Posted by Ted Appel in County on August 19th, 2010 tags: lawsuit, pension, Press Democrat, Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Associatio
By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County pension officials will continue to withhold the names and pension amounts of its top-earning retirees pending the appeal of a recent court decision that ordered such information be made public.
The board of the county’s retirement association also decided Thursday to join in support of Sacramento County’s retirement system, which last week filed the appeal in the court case.
The moves follow a recent request by The Press Democrat that the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association, or SCERA, release the pension information.
In their regular meeting Thursday, board members gave direction to Gary Bei, the association’s administrator, to reject that request, at least until the courts clarify legal questions surrounding the issue.
A law governing 20 county-run pension systems in California, including Sonoma County’s, requires that the names and pension amounts of retirees not be disclosed, SCERA officials say.
But judges in four California counties, including the recent Sacramento case, have concluded that the pension information should be made public.
“The advice that we’ve gotten from counsel is that none of the court rulings that have come out have decided this,” said Gerald Allen, the board chair, explaining SCERA’s stance. “As of this moment, our policy appears to be legally the right one.”
SCERA has rebuffed previous public information requests from pension overhaul advocates and The Press Democrat that sought names and figures on the system’s top-earning retirees.
In 2009, there were 55 retirees receiving more than $100,000 annually in retirement benefits, according to SCERA records. Those retirees represent about 1.6 percent of the association’s roughly 3,500 retired workers. For new retirees, the average pension is $40,000 a year, while for all retirees it is about $25,000 a year.
The association has attempted to make other financial and investment information easily accessible to the public in annual and quarterly reports, newsletters and on its website, said Bei, SCERA’s administrator.
“We operate the retirement system in a very transparent manner,” he said during the meeting Thursday.
But board members, in voting to join Sacramento County’s pension system in its effort to overturn the court decision, also conceded that they’re hoping for a different definition from the courts for what constitutes “transparent.”
“It would be cheaper to write the letter (in support of Sacramento County) than to go through our own lawsuit – if it gives us the results we want,” said board member Sharon Stockham.
Subject: RE: Finally a understandable email showing my research and concerns with the abuse of the SBCERS Pension and alleged value
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:52:53 -0700