Niagara Gazette

July 11, 2013

Court takes up teacher pension privacy issue

The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — New York's highest court will soon decide whether the names and benefits of retired teachers in public pension plans should be made public.

The Empire Center, a project of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, was denied the names by the state and city teachers' retirement systems under the state Freedom of Information Law.

In refusing to release the information, the teacher pension systems cited a recent court decision that protects police retiree names. Lower courts agreed with that privacy argument, and the Empire Center appealed to the Court of Appeals, which accepted the case last week.

The Empire Center collects such data for its own research, for news media and for private individuals to track how public money is spent and to help identify any abuses. The center doesn't seek addresses or other data from the records, which were once provided by the retirement systems as public documents.

As a matter of policy, John Cardillo, a spokesman for the State Teachers Retirement System, declined to comment on the appeal. A spokesman for the city teachers' retirement systems didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arguments are expected within weeks; a decision could come weeks later.

Empire Center Director Timothy Hoefer said the Court of Appeals decision to take the case is seen as a "ray of hope for public transparency."

"We remain confident that the court will validate the public's right to know how public pension funds are spent," he said.

Empire Center's website, SeeThroughNY.net, publicizes many areas of public spending, including government salaries.

The Empire Center's appeal includes numerous supportive statements in court briefs from the Albany Times Union, Auburn Citizen, Buffalo News, Gannett Co. Inc., Hearst Corp., New York Daily News, New York News Publishers Association, New York Post, the New York Press Association, The New York Times, Newsday and the Observer-Dispatch of Utica.