The Empire Center for New York State Policy said it plans to ask the state Court of Appeals to hear its appeal of a mid-level court decision today if favor of the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System’s decision not to release a list of its pension recipients, Timothy Hoefer, director of the center, announced this afternoon.
The Teachers’ Retirement System denied the Empire Center’s January 2012 Freedom of Information Law request for the list. The Empire Center lost in state Supreme Court and appealed to the Appellate Division, which handed down the decision today.
The Teachers’ Retirement System has released lists of pension recipients in previous years, but it is withholding the names and pension amounts now due to a 2011 ruling by the Appellate Division in Manhattan. That decision upheld the New York City Police Pension Fund’s refusal to release the information to the Empire Center.
“The lower court and intermediate appellate rulings in these cases are clearly wrong and are an affront to taxpayers’ rights to have access to what always has been, and should continue to be, treated as public information,” Hoefer said in a statement.
The Empire Center, which lists pension and other data on its SeeThroughNY.net website, said the court cited court precedents in upholding the denial. That includes a 1983 Court of Appeals decision that upheld the denial of a request for the names and addresses of retired police officers. But the Empire Center’s FOIL only sought the names — not the addresses or other identifying information. State courts in Manhattan erroneously cited the same decision in the police pension case, according to the Empire Center.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said he disagreed with the Appellate Division decision.
“I hope that the Court of Appeals would see fit to clarify that there is indeed a distinction in rights of access to the names of retirees and those designated by retirees as their beneficiaries,” he said in a statement. “The addresses of the retirees and their beneficiaries are clearly out of bounds, but we should always have the right to know the names of public employees, whether current or retired.”
A bill that would clarify the distinction in state law was adopted 137-1 in the Assembly last year but never came up for a vote in the Senate.