The Nevada Supreme Court is weighing whether the Public Employee Retirement System should be compelled to release the names and benefits of retired public workers as sought by a Reno newspaper.
Lawyers for the Reno Gazette-Journal and PERS made their arguments to the high court Tuesday.
The newspaper sued PERS in 2011 after it declined to provide a complete list of retirees and their benefits.
RGJ President and Publisher John Maher said the newspaper wants the information so it can analyze the financial health of Nevada’s pension system.
“Given the magnitude of the PERS system and the impact it can have on liabilities for the state as a whole, it’s imperative that as much of this information is brought to light as possible,” Maher said.
The records request followed an investigative report in the Gazette-Journal that highlighted the number of public employees who “double dip” by collecting a pension from the state while continuing to work for a public body in Nevada.
The case went to the high court after PERS appealed a December 2011 ruling by Carson City District Court Judge James Russell, who held in favor of the newspaper.
Russell said Nevada’s public records law ensures “the accountability of the government to members of the public by facilitating public access to vital information about government activities.”
Dana Bilyeu, the executive officer for PERS, said the organization appealed the case to the Nevada Supreme Court to protect the information of public employees.
“It’s important for us to maintain the integrity of those documents,” Bilyeu said.
Many of the questions asked by the justices on Tuesday centered on the public’s right to know more details of Nevada’s pension system and concerns over protecting sensitive information of about 47,000 retired employees.
Chris Wicker, attorney for PERS, said Nevada’s pension system has considered retiree information confidential under state law since the 1970s, a contention the newspaper disputed.
Scott Glogovac, the Journal’s lawyer, said the newspaper is not looking for unilateral access to individual employee files that would include sensitive materials such as military records. Instead, the paper wants information that would presumably be available in a monthly payout database that would include the name of all retirees and their benefit amount.
Glogovac said 20 other states already make public employee pension information available to the public.