10:00 PM PDT on Monday, July 11, 2011

Cassie MacDuff

San Bernardino County public pension managers wasted time and taxpayer money fighting The Press-Enterprise’s request for the names, annual pension amounts, job titles and government departments of top-paid retirees.

At a time when the pension fund lost 20 percent of its value in investments, and ended monthly stipends that helped lower-paid retirees make ends meet, it was silly and wasteful to try to keep the information secret.

The San Bernardino County Employees’ Retirement Association cited a 1937 law as the reason the pension amounts and names of retirees are confidential and should not be disclosed.

Yet a 2007 California Supreme Court decision said government salaries are public record and disclosure is not an invasion of privacy.

In May, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge said the same reasoning applies to pensions.

Even then, SBCERA dragged its feet, its lawyer saying it wouldn’t release the information until two cases involving San Diego County and Sacramento County were decided in the state appellate court.

The pension fund association last August released a list of the pension amounts, job titles and government departments of retirees receiving more than $90,000 a year. But it withheld the retirees’ names.

When it got the court order last week, it released the names but omitted the job titles and departments. It was pure game-playing.

The complete list finally was released on Friday.

Why is the information so important?

First of all, taxpayers have a right to know public employees’ compensation. It’s taxpayers’ money.

Second, public pensions are under fire because they have become so much more generous than private-sector retirements. It’s a public-policy question.

Third, a statewide survey in March found 42 percent of registered voters believe public-sector retirements are too high. Two years ago, only a third found the benefits too generous.

The newspaper’s investigation into San Bernardino County pensions already has paid dividends.

It showed that 5 percent of the county’s retirees draw pensions of more than $100,000 a year. The state average is just 2 percent.

Several times more San Bernardino County retirees have pensions in the six figures than Riverside County retirees.

Policy makers should take a look at what’s causing the discrepancy.

To read entire story, click here.