State high court prevents Stapleton from looking at PERA records

WALKER STAPLETON: State treasurer wanted information about retirement system solvency

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday rejected State Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s appeal in his case to get more information from the state’s largest public employee pension system, and he’s not happy about it.

Stapleton said he was trying to get information to help him and the board that oversees the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association see just how solvent the pension is. As treasurer, Stapleton is an automatic appointee to that 15-member panel.

In denying his appeal, the high court upheld a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling almost exactly a year ago that neither Stapleton nor any other member of the PERA board was entitled to “unfettered access” to PERA records.

That lower court agreed that granting Stapleton access to those records could breach PERA’s fiduciary duty.

“I’m obviously disappointed in the court’s ruling, but I know what I can control and what I can’t, and the courts are definitely not something I can control,” Stapleton said. “I was surprised that the court didn’t review it because you had three statewide elected officials who were all asking the court to please review this case.”

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper had filed briefs to the court in support of Stapleton’s appeal. Like Stapleton, Suthers is a Republican. Hickenlooper is a Democrat.

“The fact that the court doesn’t take up a case where three statewide elected officials from different political parties are all asking to please review the case I think is deeply disappointing,” Stapleton said. “Call me a cynic, but it’s also worth pointing out that every single member of the judicial branch are also members of PERA.”

PERA officials released a long statement about the ruling explaining what Stapleton was asking for, and why it denied his request.

“In 2011, the PERA Board of Trustees received from Treasurer Stapleton a request for individual records of the top 20 percent of benefit recipients to include annual retirement benefit, year of retirement, age at retirement, last five years of salary as a PERA contributor, ZIP Code and Division from which the member retired,” the statement read. “The board denied the request for member information due to the fact that Treasurer Stapleton failed to provide any fiduciary purpose for the information.”

Stapleton said he was only trying to find out how much the top 20 percent of pension earners would be owed over the life of those pensions, adding that he was not trying to access individual people’s accounts, but that total figure.

He believes many of those top earners got into that category years ago when PERA allowed government workers to buy pension years, some of whom did so for up to 15 years and were able to retire from government work earlier as a result.

Stapleton said he believes the numbers will show that the system isn’t as solvent as it claims and that those and future workers may run into problems the next time there is an economic downturn.


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