FDNY must release pension records, state court says

| The Advance (Staten Island)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Calling the ruling “another win for transparency,” a state judge has ordered the New York City Fire Pension Fund to release the names and pension amounts of its retirees to a fiscal watchdog group.

The Empire Center, a conservative organization which posts government salaries and pensions on its website, stated “taxpayers have a right to know” and once the information is provided, it will be available on SeeThroughNY.net, the center’s “transparency website.”

The Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854 and the Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 last year sued to block release of the pension information, citing  the need to protect the privacy of retirees.

In a ruling that backed Empire Center’s position, a state Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn ordered the New York City Fire Pension Fund to comply with the center’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the pension information.

The unions are not expected to appeal the decision, but will reportedly seek to block release of the information through legislative action in Albany.

The case began when the Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854 and the Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 sued the Fire Pension Fund to block the Empire Center’s FOIL request.

According to Empire Center, the unions’ lawsuit was filed just a few months after the May 2014 ruling by the state Court of Appeals in Empire Center v. New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, in which the court unanimously held that the public has the right to know the names as well as pension amounts of retired employees.

In its suit, the unions said firefighters’ names could be kept secret because disclosure would put their safety at risk.

In an 11-page opinion, Supreme Court Justice Peter P. Sweeney said the union failed to prove its claim, adding “[o]ne would think that if someone who had a grudge against a law enforcement officer, he or she would already know his or her name,” according to a statement on Empire Center’s website.

“This is another win for openness,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “We hope the New York City Fire Pension Fund will promptly comply with Judge Sweeney’s order and provide us with the information we asked for nearly a year ago.”

“Taxpayers are on the hook for these pension payments, and they have a right to see who will be benefitting from these promises,” Hoefer said.