On Wednesday, in an apparent move to appease open government advocates and curious taxpayers, City Comptroller John Liu announced that the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) Board of Trustees had adopted three resolutions that would “provide the public with unprecedented access to information concerning the pension system.”

Mr. Unprecedented Transparency?

One of the resolutions will make “all pension payroll information, including names” available via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.

In fact, that information was already available via FOIL request.  The Empire Center acquired a list of city pensioners in 2009 and posted the data at www.SeeThroughNY.net. It wasn’t until we requested the data again, for 2010, that NYCERS decided to withhold the names.

Did NYCERS decide to change policy and withhold names so the Comptroller could claim that the system is now “among the nationwide leaders in transparency?”

Or, in what seems a more likely scenario, is Liu now embarrassed that NYCERS started hiding this public information shortly after a Manhattan Supreme Court Judge ruled the New York City Police Pension Fund (PPF) could withhold the names of their members from the public?  That case, prompted by the Empire Center’s lawsuit against the PPF, is pending in the Appellate Division, where our appeal was argued late last month.

Either way, the NYCERS decision is the right one.  The city’s biggest pension fund will now resume providing the data it should never have withheld in the first place, saving taxpayers the expense of yet another lawsuit to enforce what FOIL clearly requires.

By the way, Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit for helping to force the issue, by having his representative on the NYCERS board offer a resolution last month that would have required release of the list of pension recipients.   The resolution initially was defeated — with Liu (aka Mr. Unprecedented Transparency) abstaining.

The other two resolutions says that NYCERS will post “real time data” on pension fund holdings online, which really is unprecedented, and that NYCERS pension fund expenditure data will be integrated into Liu’s “Checkbook NYC” initiative, which posts agency spending online in real time.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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