Sometimes a ‘sensationalistic fishing expedition’ catches a lot of ‘fish’

Recently both the Reno and Las Vegas newspapers published editorials calling for the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada to release retirees’ names and benefit amounts, information a district court judge and the Nevada Supreme Court both said are public records in a lawsuit brought by the Reno paper.

(The hang up is that PERS has claimed that information is contained only in the individual files of members and those files are not public records by law. The Supreme Court said PERS did not have to create a special report for the Reno paper containing the public records.)

Metro announces the firing of an officer without bothering to mention that officer had already been granted a full disability retirement. (Photo by K.M. Cannon for the R-J)

Predictably, the online comments on both editorials included a few people complaining that releasing names and benefits would be an invasion of privacy.

Beneath the Reno editorial, a commenter asked, “Why do they need employee names?”

Beneath the R-J opinion, a person said, “There is absolutely no reason that the specific identities of pensioners are required to analyze the performance of the system and to identify anomalies that indicate potential fraud.

“The lawsuit to invade pensioners’ privacy is nothing but a sensationalistic fishing expedition.”

And a fish was just caught. Sunday, the R-J reported on how the Metro police made a big show of firing an officer who had shot and killed a mentally disturbed and unarmed Gulf War veteran during a standoff.

Though no one ever mentioned it, of course, Metro could not actually fire Jesus Arevalo, because he had already been granted a full disability retirement by PERS. Arevalo told the paper, “It was stress-related.”

The paper reported Arevalo, 36, will get about 31 percent of his annual pay for the rest of his life — estimated at between $23,000 and $28,000 a year. Estimated, because PERS refused to release actual figures.

How many others are getting such deals is unknown, though the paper mentioned one other cop with such a deal. Lt. Paul Page was granted a full disability retirement by PERS right in the middle of a criminal investigation into allegations he had embezzled funds from the police union. The paper offered no dollar estimates.

It reminds me of a story in The New York Times a couple of years ago. The paper, using public records, discovered:

“Virtually every career employee (of the Long Island Railroad) — as many as 97 percent in one recent year — applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found. Since 2000, those records show, about a quarter of a billion dollars in federal disability money has gone to former L.I.R.R. employees, including about 2,000 who retired during that time.”

And that is what one can carch with a sensationalistic fishing expedition.