By Jeb Bladine
News-Register Publisher / Editor
Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System poured excessive money into individual retirement accounts and disregarded the well-being of Oregon taxpayers.
Did that shock you? Well, it shouldn't. You see, officials at PERS - backed by the full force and power of the Oregon attorney general - believe that every action they take must be "for the exclusive benefit of members and their beneficiaries."
We know because they told us. And told us. And told us again.
Seven months ago we requested information from PERS to clarify the size of pension payments going to public employees. PERS said it would cost $75 per hour for them to collect that information with total charges as high as $1,000. We asked for a waiver of the fee, citing state law that allows a waiver when "making the record available primarily benefits the general public."
The agency director responded that "as a matter of law," PERS couldn't follow the state's public records law because it is not for the exclusive benefit of members and their beneficiaries.
Dumfounded, we appealed to the attorney general, who helps referee such disputes. Imagine our surprise when the AG defended the PERS position, despite Oregon Administrative Rules that specifically grant PERS the authority to waive these fees. Next up is a public records lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court, and we've already spent more than $1,000 on the case. It has become a matter of principle.
Adding insult, a public employee wrote about PERS in a November article published by The Oregonian. His analysis required him to get virtually the same information we had requested. Do you think PERS charged him $1,000? We don't even have to ask.
Improper decisions produced $15 billion in "unfunded liability" for PERS, and spawned a lawsuit by public employers who are paying the tab. In his findings, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Paul Lipscomb declared that actions by the PERS board went beyond "ordinary fiscal imprudence" to become "abuse of discretion."
Judge Lipscomb is learning that his order is just another opinion. PERS considers itself above the law, above the welfare of taxpaying Oregon peons like us. It operates "for the exclusive benefit of members and their beneficiaries," and the rest of us can just pay up and shut up.
That's the message delivered by PERS and the attorney general, but as you can see, they haven't shut us up yet.
Jeb Bladine is editor and publisher of the News-Register.