The Salem Statesman Journal, for reasons known only to its generally right-leaning editorial board, went to court so the newspaper could release hitherto private information about the retirement benefits of Oregon state government workers.
My wife is one of them.
A few days ago she got a letter from the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) informing her that because of lawsuits filed by the Statesman Journal and Portland Oregonian, on November 21, 2011 her name and benefit amount will be made public.
Download PERS Letter
Then, on March 9, 2012 anyone in the world will be able to learn my wife's retirement date, retirement plan, benefit calculation method, years of service, and final salary -- if this info is available from PERS's electronic database.
Why does the Statesman Journal need this personally identified information? I haven't figured that out.
Neither has a neighbor who cancelled his subscription after learning about our local newspaper's crusade to reveal intimate details about the legally-earned retirement benefits of himself and other PERS members.
He's deeply irritated at the Statesman Journal. So am I.
Neither of us can understand how the public interest is served by releasing data on individual retirees. If the newspaper, or anyone else, wants to study how the Oregon state retirement system works, I'm sure PERS would be happy to produce any sort of special statistical report desired.
So why is the Statesman Journal determined to reveal individual names and individual retirement benefits? Is this a matter of investigative journalism, or part of a crusade against public workers?
Salem's daily newspaper has been obsessed with the Willamette Educational Service District, which did something wrong some time in the past (can't remember the details; I got bored after the one thousandth, or thereabouts, breathless front page story about the ESD, especially since the Statesman Journal has never bothered to dig deeply into the much more expensive missteps of the three Repubican Marion County Commissioners who sat by and fiddled around while Courthouse Square became a useless $34 million debacle).
But when it comes to prying into individual PERS retirees' personal financial records, the Statesman Journal is right on it.
Again, why the need for making this info public? I wonder how the management employees of the Statesman Journal, such as publisher Steve Silberman, would feel about revealing to the world every governmental or tax benefit they receive?
After all, if individual information about PERS retirement benefits is public knowledge, why shouldn't we be able to know what tax credits or deductions Mr. Silberman and other members of the newspaper editorial board have taken advantage of?
And maybe some of their family members are on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Perhaps a relative has gotten a student loan underwritten by the government, or benefited from some other public program. All of those details should be divulged, so readers of the Statesman Journal can know the extent to which newspaper employees are feeding from the public trough.
If that sounds ridiculous to Statesman Journal management, then why is releasing individual information about PERS retireee benefits any less ridiculous?
Qutie a few letters to the editor and online comments have expressed similar outrage about what the Statesman Journal is doing. Check out this, this, this, and this. Some excerpts:
"After you post all your information on PERS retirees, I want to know all the names of welfare recipients, how much money they receive, how long they have been on welfare and if they are trying to get off taxpayers' dole.
"I would also like to know who, what, when and where people are receiving medical care on the taxpayers' dime.
"You might as well stick in the names and monies of anyone else who has received any taxpayer money (corporate executive, etc). I want to know exactly where my taxes are going."
"I cannot believe the public should be told my name along with the amount I receive each month for my pension. Isn't that an invasion of my privacy and of every retired person? Why does anyone — aside from PERS and my yearly tax reports — need my name?
I think the public deserves to know the pension plan details, the position salaries, the number of years served and what those facts will provide for each pension, but also a reminder that I contributed to my plan each month through the 20 years I served."
"If all PERS benefits are made public, then all people receiving any government aid should be made public."
"There is something inherently wrong with a system that requires a search warrant to obtain financial records from banks but allows retirement payment information to be given to news sources.
I spent over 25 years serving the people of Oregon, representing the state and the agency for which I worked to the best of my ability. I took very seriously the role of "public servant," knowing my life would reflect on the state for good or ill. I really looked forward to having my privacy returned to me when I retired, but now that, too, will be fodder for public scrutiny.
Thank you, Statesman Journal and Oregonian."