PUBLIC INFORMATION -- "For nearly a year, the Orange County Employees
Retirement System has refused to release the names of retirees collecting at
least $100,000 annually.  
Requests from The Orange County Register under the California Public Records
Act have been repeatedly denied," reports Tony Saavedra in his OC Watchdog blog. But the matter is going to court this week.

On Thursday, the California Foundation for Fiscal
Responsibility is coming to Orange County Superior Court seeking a court order
to force release of the data. The odds — and the law — are on the group’s side,
as judges in Contra Costa, Stanislaus, Merced and other California counties
have ruled that such information is public.

Many retirement agencies — like the giant California Public
Employees Retirement System and the State Teachers Retirement System — already
have released the data without a court fight. But OCERS wants a battle, largely
because some board members fear the information would be embarrassing to
retirees.

 “I’m not interested in teeing up retirees for a beat down,”
board member Richard A. White, a sergeant in the Orange County Sheriff’s
Department, said in January.

 Marcia Fritz, vice president of the foundation, told us this
week:  ”That tells me a lot about
what he knows about the people on the list. If it was absolutely ethical, he
would be glad to disclose it.”

 The foundation, a pension reform group, sued OCERS in
December and is seeking a court writ ordering the release of the pension data.
The Orange County Register has filed a declaration in support of the
foundation’s request.

 In documents filed in response to the CFFR suit, OCERS
continues clutching to the same argument that has failed in other courtrooms:  They insist the names of retirees are
confidential under California Government Code 31532
.

 That code says that “sworn statements and individual
records” of county retirees shall not be released to the public. However,
attorneys for the foundation and the Register argue that the code pertains to
medical records, home addresses, family information and other obviously
confidential information, not the retiree’s name or amount of retirement pay
collected.

 In records filed with the Orange County Court, the
foundation argues that the names of retirees and payments made to them are
records assembled by OCERS  to do
its business and therefore not covered by the government code.

 “The Legislature did not intend the term ’sworn statements
and individual records of members’ to refer to the agency’s own records of its
financial transactions,” said the arguments  submitted by foundation attorneyTimothy Bittle.

 OCERS has already posted the retirement amounts and agencies
that the retirees worked for on a searchable database at www.myocers.org.  Without the names though it’s
impossible to know, just for example, whether fat pension paychecks are going
to ex-public employees who ran afoul of the law–as The Register found when it
dug through the CalPERS data.

In a similar case, the California Supreme Court has
recognized that disclosing a person’s salary or benefits may cause that person
embarrassment, but that personal discomfort is outweighed by the strong public
policy supporting transparancy in government, Bittle wrote in his pleadings.

 Bittle successfully argued in Contra Costa County for the
release of similar information, causing Judge Barry Baskin to declare that “a
transparent government is the cornerstone of our democracy.” Baskin ordered the
pension data released last July.

 In November, Stanislaus County Superior Court ordered the
Stanislaus County Employees RetirementAssociation to release its pension data
to the Modesto Bee. Judge Hurl Johnson, in that case, rejected the notion that
state law required the information be confidential.

 “The public has the right to know how this money is being
spent and the disclosure of such information outweighs any expectancy of
privacy,” Johnson ruled.