09:42 PM PDT on Saturday, July 9, 2011
The Press-Enterprise

The San Bernardino County Employees’ Retirement Association on Friday made public the names, job titles and payouts to retirees whose pensions exceed $90,000 after losing a yearlong legal battle to keep secret the identities of retirees.

The information on the 598 local-government retirees, who collectively receive about $75 million a year in pensions, came 354 days after The Press-Enterprise requested the information under California’s public records law and a week after the retirement association was served with a judge’s order requiring the association to disclose the information.

Given the state’s focus on public-pension reform, the newspaper wanted to know how many retires received more than $100,000 a year and sued last year after a request for such information was denied.

The retirement association reluctantly released the information after exhausting its legal options.

“We do not believe the public interest to disclose this personal information outweighs the interest of protecting the confidentiality and safety of our members,” association spokeswoman Nicole Dailey said Friday in a prepared statement.

Faced with the order from San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Vander Feer, the association’s board approved releasing the names of pensioners on Thursday.

The newspaper, however, was forced to make a new public records request that day after it received a printed list of retirees and pension amounts that did not say where the retirees had worked or their job titles.

Andrew Kjeldgaard, attorney for SBCERA, said the agency was providing the information that was specifically mentioned in the court order and that the newspaper would have to file a new public records act request to receive the complete data.

(Kjeldgaard retired in October from SBCERA and is now receiving a pension of $215,616 a year, according to the pension data released Friday. He continues to work for the retirement agency under a contract.)

Alonzo Wickers IV, the newspaper’s attorney, described the retirement agency’s response as “disingenuous,” noting that the court order focused on the names and amounts because that was the information omitted in data the agency provided in August 2010.

Wickers added that Kern, Mendocino, and Ventura county officials decided to release pension information voluntarily after the superior court rulings in other counties all favored access.

But the San Bernardino County agency waited for appellate cases to be resolved in San Diego and Sacramento counties, which resulted in repeated delays. Both appellate courts agreed that the public should have access to information on publicly funded pensions, Wickers said.

“It (SBCERA) chose to frustrate public access, waste taxpayer money on legal fees for what was almost certain to be a losing legal battle, and delay disclosure,” Wickers said.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said the release of pension information was overdue.

“San Bernardino County voters can finally get access to the information on public pensions that is the same kind of information that millions of voters elsewhere have been able to see for quite some time,” Scheer said.

The Press-Enterprise is a member of the coalition, which advocates for transparency in state and local government.

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