On Friday, Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian reported on changes to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System that allow public disclosure of individual members' information. The following is a reprint of the article in full:
The board of directors of Oregon's public employee retirement system voted 3-to-1 Friday to change its rules to allow the public disclosure of members' individual benefits.
The administrative rule change reflects a legal settlement that PERS reached earlier this year to release benefit information to The Oregonian and the Statesman Journal in Salem on Nov. 21 for 110,000 individual retirees.
The PERS Board was quick to note the release is still contingent on a hearing Monday in Marion County Circuit Court, where a group of retirees has filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to prevent release of the information.
"It's out of our hands -- above our pay grade," said James Dalton, a former technology executive who chairs the PERS Board. "It's in the court system and we'll abide" by what the court determines.
The Oregonian has long sought access to such information as part of its reporting on the retirement system's costs and financial difficulties. PERS previously released individually identifiable pension benefits, but started denying requests for such information on all but the most prominent public employees in 2002, saying the information was exempt from public records laws.
Attorney General John Kroger changed that course last October, ordering the agency to release individually identifiable benefit information to the two newspapers.
Pat West, a former Salem firefighter who sits on the PERS board, was the lone vote against the rule change. He said he opposed the data release, which he contends could make retirees marks for financial scams.
The rule change was administrative to align policy with the settlement, and has no bearing on whether the data is releasable, board members said. But they were heavily lobbied by retirees to vote against it.
The Oregonian has intervened in the employees' lawsuit. Its lawyer, Portland attorney Charles Hinkle, says he hasn't seen issues related to the release of similar data in other states, and is confident the court will agree with the Attorney General.