Like the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton is dogging the state retirement system to give him information about its benefits.
He's not asking for detailed information that would help someone identify a particular beneficiary. Rather, Stapleton, a member of the retirement board, wants information he says he needs to help govern the agency.
But the agency has rejected his request, prompting Stapleton's office to issue this release on Friday:
Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton issued the following statement in response to Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association’s (PERA) counterclaim filed on October 13, 2011 regarding Treasurer Stapleton’s lawsuit for more transparency within PERA:
It is unfortunate that PERA continues to hide behind lawyers and counterclaims to block a board member, with fiduciary responsibility to the retirement system, access to information that makes up the DNA of the system. As PERA maintains at least a $21 billion unfunded liability, it seems their objective is for all board members to operate in the dark and act as a rubberstamp for their executives.
Since PERA has chosen to stonewall transparency and slam the door on good corporate governance the Attorney General’s office will file a response to their counterclaim within the allotted time period.
I believe too much is at stake for PERA members and all of Colorado to simply sit back and let the retirement system fall off a cliff.
Stapleton, a PERA board member, asked PERA in June for information on the top 20 percent of beneficiaries that would assist him in independently assessing the system’s health. The requested data, which lacks any information allowing for recipients to be identified, includes:
· Annual retirement benefit
· Age of retirement
· Division worked
· Year of retirement
· Last five years of salary
· Zip code of residence
After Treasurer Stapleton’s requests were repeatedly denied by PERA’s board, Stapleton was forced to take legal action and filed a lawsuit through the Colorado Attorney General’s office on September 19, 2011
Treasurer Stapleton began serving on PERA’s board after being sworn in on January 11, 2011. The Colorado State Treasurer is the only elected official who serves on the board of Colorado’s pension system. Prior to being elected Treasurer, Stapleton spent his entire career in private sector business, most recently as chief executive of a publicly traded company.
The day before, Thursday, PERA had issued this statement:
Colorado PERA Asks Court for Guidance on Responding to Trustee Requests for Member Information
The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) today filed its own claim in the lawsuit brought by Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. PERA’s claim asks the Denver District Court to provide guidance on the circumstances under which PERA can lawfully disclose confidential member information to its Trustees. PERA asks the Court to declare that release of member information to a Trustee is proper when: (1) there is evidence that there is a valid fiduciary purpose; (2) the information requested has a connection to the purpose identified; (3) the cost of production is reasonable; and (4) there are safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the information.
Also, PERA asks the Court to determine that the Board properly concluded that the Treasurer is not entitled to information he requested regarding the top 20 percent of PERA benefit recipients. The Treasurer, despite numerous opportunities to state a valid reason for asking for this information, has never done so. In addition, the Treasurer could not describe any reasonable connection between the information he was requesting and any valid fiduciary purpose.
PERA’s filing came in response to a lawsuit from Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who in that capacity also serves as a PERA Trustee.
Colorado law requires PERA to maintain the confidentiality of “all information” in PERA’s member records. The PERA Board sought the advice of attorney John Nixon, a national expert on the fiduciary duties of board members, regarding the request. Nixon advised PERA’s Board of Trustees that the disclosure of such information could violate the confidentiality protections in Colorado law. Nixon also advised the PERA Board that due to the Treasurer’s lack of any valid stated purpose for the request, the Board members would be potentially breaching their fiduciary duty if they were to disclose the information to the Treasurer. After carefully considering Nixon’s opinion, all Trustees except for Stapleton voted to deny the request.
PERA’s formal response to Stapleton’s lawsuit states: “This action provides an opportunity for PERA to obtain guidance regarding circumstances under which it can lawfully disclose information regarding its members and benefit recipients to PERA Trustees.”
PERA has retained Denver attorney John V. McDermott of the law firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, LLP, to represent it in the lawsuit. McDermott stated, “The claim of PERA is a constructive attempt to establish the standards to be used in the future in the event of a request by any Trustee.”
PERA’s actuarial consultants review each member and retiree record every year and report the overall results of their analysis to the PERA Board of Trustees and to the General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Committee. Additionally, the State Auditor’s Office hires one of the four largest accounting firms in the world to audit PERA’s financial report and operations every year. This information is publicly available on the State Auditor’s Web site and in PERA’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).
From the "it must be nice file," PERA also made available a fact sheet that shows that three retirees are receiving more than $200,000 a year in benefits, 29 receive from $150,000 to $199,999, and 546 receive $100,000 to $149,999.
The largest number, however, 34,518, receive between $25,000 and $49,999 annually.