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Transparency Not Always Convenient, But Important

There’s an old saying: I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Add to that: transparency may not always be convenient, but it’s important to government.

This occurred to me recently in a case I am handling for the Los Angeles Times. The Times is suing the LA county retirement system for records of pensions paid to its tens of thousands of retirees. The system, LACERA, fought against disclosure for over a year and a half before finally relenting (in part) in the face of three court decisions ruling that the names and pension amounts of retirees must be disclosed.

Before anything was disclosed, a police union filed a lawsuit trying to block disclosure, claiming that some of its members might be “undercover retirees” who would be endangered by disclosure. Meanwhile, LACERA sent a letter to its members telling them it had to disclose their names and pension amounts. Its call center got jammed.

But not all retirees reflexively oppose disclosure, just as not all public employees oppose disclosure of their salaries. One LACERA retiree wrote a Times staffer saying that while she didn’t like having her name and pension disclosed, she applauded the Times for fighting the battle. She said too many people in the media don’t understand transparency laws like California’s Brown Act and its Public Records Act.

There’s a civics lesson here.

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