Why We Need to Know Who Gets What Pension

For years, public employee unions and some governments have fought against disclosure of pensions. Specifically, they've argued that we shouldn't be able to tie the names of a retired public employee to a pension amount.

This weekend brought another example of why the unions were wrong and why disclosure is essential.

The LA Times reported recently that Los Angeles officials may reduce the pension of a former LAPD officer -- after they learned that the officer, Jay Cicinelli, was working as a police officer in the city of Fullerton. What's the problem? The LAPD-turned-Fullerton officer was receiving a pension based on a disability -- he lost an eye during a 1996 traffic stop -- that was thought to prevent him from working again.

Los Angeles only learned about the officer's employment in Fullerton after he was identified as one of the two Fullerton officers charged in the beating death of a homeless man. To put a fine point on it: knowing the name was crucial to identifying the possibly excessive pension (a board will have to decide whether to reduce the LAPD pension).

This is a great reason why the names, salaries and pension benefits of public employees should be available publicly. But it's not the only reason. The pay and benefits of public employees are fundamentally public information. Fortunately, the California courts have made plain that they agree.  Now it's time to make such data available on-line in easy-to-search form -- as a check on corruption and excessive pay and benefits.

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