Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) is a public agency created by the Nevada Legislature to provide benefits to retired government employees in the state. The agency is funded by your tax dollars and required to disclose retirement records, including pension amounts, for public employees per a 2013 Nevada Supreme Court ruling and in conjunction with the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA).
When the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) requested the latest PERS records for their website TransparentNevada.com, they hit an interesting snag. While previously PERS submitted their public records with names and dollar amounts with no issue, suddenly their reporting methods had changed. Names have now been replaced with social security numbers which, by law, cannot be made public and must be redacted. This “new” reporting method renders the data completely useless as there’s no way to correlate retirement dollar amounts to the people that are getting them. Basically, we’re looking at a list of dollar amounts that says nothing other than a lot of taxpayer money is going to a lot of people. That’s neither useful nor is it exactly news to anyone who has watched government spending grow over the last several years.
When NPRI went back to PERS requesting the correct list, with the corresponding names rather than social security numbers, the non-profit think tank was told that a report such as the one requested no longer exists and PERS is under no obligation to create one.
Now, that would be true if PERS had no separate record linking names to social security numbers. Justice Ron Parraguirre, who wrote the decision in the 2013 ruling did specify that PERS would not have to, “create new documents or customized reports by searching for and compiling information from individuals, files or other records.” So, if PERS was not able to readily connect the names to social security numbers because they don’t track them in that way, then no, they would be free from the “burden” of public record.
Here’s the rub … PERS does keep separate records that connect the information required as indicated by the agency’s compliance with NPRA in previous years as well as information from the agency itself. A 2015 Nevada Supreme Court ruling clarifies PERS’ responsibility even further. That decision states, “When an agency has a computer program that can readily compile the requested information, the agency is not excused from its duty to produce and disclose that information.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a government-run agency isn’t fond of transparency. PERS’ deliberate attempt to circumvent the Nevada Public Records Act is simply another example of a government agency attempting to hide the way it spends our hard-earned dollars. NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation has filed a petition with the court to compel PERS to release the data with the corresponding names and the case is ongoing.
Call to Action: Don’t let government agencies spend without our oversight. The NPRA and similar laws are in place so we can have an accounting of where our money is going and it’s our duty as taxpayers to pay attention. Check out TransparentNevada.com to see the public records of various salaried positions throughout the state as well as the most recently available pension records from PERS. It’s vital that we keep a watchful eye on how taxpayer dollars are spent.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
By Whose Authority?
For more information on my Commentary and to see some of my backup research, or if you wonder why I take the position I take, go to www.LyleBrennan.com.