State Pension Fund Tried Sueing “Republic”

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Battlefield Arizona, Corruption

Craig Harris
The Arizona Republic

For this series, The Arizona Republic filed 67 public-records requests between August and October. The requests went to Arizona’s four statewide public-pension systems, the Phoenix and Tucson pension programs, and all 57 public-school districts in Maricopa County.

The Republic, under the Arizona Public Records Law, obtained the annual pension payments for more than 111,000 retirees in the six pension systems and the salaries of retirees, mostly educators, who still hold government jobs.

Only the Arizona State Retirement System balked at the request. ASRS on Aug. 31 provided a database of retiree names, their date of retirement, their total credited years of service and their final employer. Citing privacy concerns, the current benefit amount paid to each retiree was not provided.

The newspaper on Sept. 3 demanded through legal counsel that ASRS produce the exact pension benefit for each retiree. A week later, the newspaper requested amounts paid for service credit, a factor in determining a person’s pension, by retirees with the highest pensions.

ASRS sued the newspaper Sept. 15 in Maricopa County Superior Court, asking a judge to uphold its denial of the records. The newspaper threatened to countersue and seek attorney’s fees.

The ASRS board met Sept. 29. Following advice from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, it turned over to The Republic all previously denied records and withdrew its lawsuit.

Director Paul Matson said ASRS was not trying to thwart the Public Records Law but was acting as a fiduciary by guarding members’ data.

Randy Lovely, editor and vice president/news of The Republic, said the paper’s intent in gathering the data was to show how Arizona, like other states, is struggling to fund its public pensions.

The Republic, as part of our detailed coverage of all aspects of the state’s fiscal situation, set out to give readers a full view of the state’s pension situation. Our intention was not to reveal the specific pension information for every individual in the system but rather to analyze the full data to give legislators insights into possible areas of reform and savings,” Lovely said.

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