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Bid To Make Government Pension Salaries Public Suffers Setback

12:11 AM, Feb 25, 2012   |    comments
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By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY -- The state Court of Appeals decided this month to not hear a case on whether a New York City police pension can keep private the names of its recipients, a lawyer in the case said.

The Empire Center For New York State Policy, an Albany-based conservative think tank, sued the New York City Police Pension Fund in 2010 after it refused to provide the names and pension amounts of its retirees.

The courts sided with the pension fund, and an appeal to the state's highest court was rejected Feb. 14 because the Empire Center's attorney missed the filing deadline.

The Empire Center's lawyer, David Schulz, said Friday that the organization plans to reintroduce the case and would hope to have it back before the Court of Appeals by year's end.

"We're starting over," he said.

The lower courts' rulings to keep private the pensioners' names spurred most New York City pension funds and the state Teachers Retirement Fund to also shutter their records from the public.

The teachers' retirement system covers about 145,000 retirees and nearly 300,000 active members.

The state's highest court decision was the result of a discrepancy between the group and New York City over when the clock started for the Empire Center to file its appeal.

The Police Pension Fund contended that it properly notified the Empire Center of the Appellate Court's ruling, which then started the 30-day clock to file a notice of appeal.

The Empire Center didn't view the pension fund's notification as a formal notice. But the Court of Appeals sided with the pension fund and declined to hear the case, saying the deadline had expired.

The Empire Center has sought the police pension information for inclusion in its searchable online database of salaries and pensions, at www.SeeThroughNY.net.

Major news organizations in the state, including Gannett Co. Inc., filed an amicus brief in November in support of the group's appeal.

Newspapers, including Gannett, regularly report on the pensions of public officials.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said he's hopeful that the state Legislature will pass a law to clarify that the pensions are public.

He contended that the information is public, and the courts were misguided. The current law excludes pension beneficiaries, such as spouses of pension recipients, from having their names released, but not the recipients, Freeman said.

By JOSEPH SPECTOR

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