It’s a basic principle, finally being affirmed after years of flagrant disrespect: Because public pensions are paid by the public, all of us have a right to know who is getting how much.
Which is why today, for the very first time, you can go to SeeThroughNY.net, a website valiantly built by the nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy, and find details about pension payouts to those who are part of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the single largest fund for retired municipal workers.
Finally, rays of sunlight are being shed on a big chunk of the $10 billion and growing the city pays out to its retirees every year.
Big improvement. But boy was it like pulling rhinoceros teeth to get here.
The journey started in 2009, when the Empire Center, using the state’s Freedom of Information Law, requested pension data from eight separate New York pension funds, five for city workers and three in the statewide system for state and local public employees outside the city.
Soon thereafter, the NYPD’s Police Pension Fund threw up the first roadblock by refusing to divulge names, and instead supplying only a useless list of dollar figures.
Undeterred, the Empire Center went to court; a misguided judge ruled against them in 2010. That led most of the other funds to join the stonewall.
Fortunately, a long legal climb up to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals resulted in a ringing, unanimous ruling in 2014 that the amounts and the names are both a matter of public record.
But while the city and state teacher funds quickly fell into line, NYCERS, the FDNY’s fire fund and the NYPD police fund still refused. Each had to be separately litigated, using up more and more time.
At long last, in 2015, Brooklyn state Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney ruled that the fire fund had to open up. The following year, Sweeney ruled the same for NYCERS.
Even then, city lawyers dragged out their appeal to the last possible moment — and then dropped the appeal and promised the data, but took nearly another year, claiming internal problems, to cough it up.
Exhausting. Eternal. Enough.
Today, 5.1 million NYCERS records are now available for public viewing. This includes 122 retired undercover investigators for the five district attorneys, whose names have been redacted.
It’s a reasonable, and limited, compromise that shows the way for dealing with retired NYPD undercovers when the police pension fund has to finally show and tell.
Get to it soon.