Most of the time I agree with the points made by the Orange County Register’s Watchdog Reports. But when it comes to Tony Saavedra’s report yesterday about the brewing battle between the Register and the Orange County Employee’s Retirement System (OCERS) over the release of the names of retired members and the amounts of their pension payments I’ve got to disagree. Saavedra has requested that OCERS release the names and pension payments received by members of the system who have retired. Saavedra claims that court decisions have determined that this information is public record and he wants it. The OCERS board disagrees and is refusing to release the requested information. Click Here, for Saavedra’s report.
SaavedraÂ writes in response to OCERS board member claims that his intent is to beat down retired employees:
While this Watchdog isnâ€™t interested in beating anyone down, there is a reason to ask for names.Â For one thing, it allows us to see if these retirees are double-dipping by working in other jobs. For another, it allows us to see whether these well-paid retirees have job-related criminal records â€” such as the former city manager ofÂ Vernon.Â And it allows us to determine whether these retirees did a good job or were given a golden handshake.
The basic problem I have here is the belief that the amount of money a “double-dipping” retiree receives in pension payments is any one’s business. While I will admit to having an idle curiosity over how much a highly paid County executive who came out of retirement receives in pension benefits in addition to the salary they receive, the only thing thatÂ might beÂ my business is whether they are OCERS retirees and also current employees. The amount a retiree receives in pension is not a salary, it is a benefit. It is a matter between the retired member and OCERS, and no one else.
Saavedra claims “The bottom line:Â This information is public. These pensions are paid by taxpayers. And the citizensÂ deserve to know what is happening with their money.”
There is a critical flaw in this perspective.Â Pensions are not as he claims “paid by the taxpayer.” Pensions are paid by the employer, in this case public agencies, and the employees. Even if the employer picks up 100% of the employee share of retirement contributions, it is the employee’s contribution and was negotiated by those employees as part of their regular compensation when they were employees. The only interest the public has is inÂ what compensation, including benefits, an active employee is being paid.
There are those, including appointed OCERS Board Member Reed Royalty, Saavedra and his bosses over at the OC Register, who believe that since “the taxpayers” must guarantee the pension benefits of the retirees that the pension funds are all “taxpayer” funds. If we extend their perspective to its ultimate conclusion then since the “taxpayer” backs up the Social Security system, the “taxpayer” has the right to know how much money each and every person getting Social Security benefits receives.
I have a strong suspicion that the same people screaming for disclosure of the pension payments made to retired OCERS members would howl like stuck pigs if what they receive in Social Security benefits when they retire were to be disclosed. A person with a criminal record is still entitled to their Social Security benefits. I am not sure why a public employee should be treated differently. And if an employee received a “golden handshake” the public already has access to that information. It is also not the job of individual taxpayers to evaluate the performance of public employees. That is between the employee and their manager.
To borrow Saavedra’s own words here, The bottom line: My individual pension benefit, what ever it may be when I retire, is my personal business and no one else’s.
And for the record, those benefits are paid by the Orange County EMPLOYEE’S Retirement System. Not, as some might want to believe, the Orange County TAXPAYER’S Retirement System.