Editorial: Arrogant disdain

How long will the state judiciary tolerate a public agency whose officials not only spit on the right of taxpayers to review public information, but willfully defy court rulings?

Frankly, it’s incredible that the leaders of the Nevada Public Employee Retirement System have been allowed to keep their cynical shell game in operation for this long without suffering any consequences.

Last week, a free-market Las Vegas think tank filed a motion in Carson City court to force PERS to make available certain details about public pension recipients and payments. The issue goes back almost six years to when the Reno Gazette-Journal requested such records and the pension agency resisted, citing privacy concerns.

Carson City Judge James Russell disagreed, however, and in 2011 properly held that the information — which included retiree names, dates of service, job titles and pension payouts — was public under the state’s open records law. PERS appealed, but the state Supreme Court affirmed Judge Russell’s decision in 2013.

Instead of complying with the ruling and state statutes, PERS officials chose to resist, obfuscate, stonewall and delay. In February 2014, the system began releasing monthly payouts, but the data were incomplete and didn’t include yearly figures and other information, making it difficult to interpret the numbers in context.

In its motion, the Nevada Policy Research Center points out that when PERS finally made available the 2015 yearly actuarial report, the system had substituted redacted Social Security numbers for names, making it impossible for taxpayers to know who was receiving what. Agency officials disingenuously cited new record-keeping policies as the explanation for the change.

“It’s a clear attempt to keep the actual payments from public view,” said Joseph Becker, the director of the think tank’s litigation arm.

These shenanigans are in keeping with the retirement system’s long-established habit of obstructing public scrutiny and defying accountability regardless of state law and judicial mandates. “At every turn, it appears as if PERS has sequentially manufactured barriers to prevent it from meeting its disclosure obligations to the public,” an attorney for the Reno newspaper noted in 2014.

This disturbing pattern continues. To compound the matter, PERS flushes taxpayer funds fighting transparency rather than opting to comply with the spirit of the law.

This is not some arcane academic or legal exercise. Nevadans who support the pensions of the state’s public-sector workers have every right to know where their money goes and who gets it. Those scheming to hide that information reveal a haughty contempt for open government and an arrogant disdain for the taxpayers who support the retirement system.

It’s past time for a judge to demand that PERS officials explain in court their serial defiance and to make clear that if they persist in ignoring established court rulings they risk sanctions and contempt charges.

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