My continuing pursuit of true pension amounts
March 9, 2018
A story titled "Overtime spikes pensions for dozens of Lansing police, fire retirees" appeared in the Lansing State Journal last August. I suspected immediately that the pension amounts the LSJ had obtained from the City of Lansing were not the full amounts - and I set out to prove it. I wrote a story about my quest December 21. That story ended with then-city council president Patricia Spitzley upholding the city attorney's denial of my Freedom of Information Act request.
I had requested the pension calculation sheets for a list of 20 police and firefighter retirees because I knew that those sheets contained the full retirement allowances. My request was denied because "information regarding the calculation of actual or estimated retirement benefits . . . are exempt from disclosure." In my appeal to council president Spitzley, I said
This is what has happened since December:
In early January, I sent the city attorney another FOIA request. I asked again for those 20 pension calculation sheets, this time specifically asking that all calculation details other than the full retirement allowance be redacted. My request was denied on January 26. The reason? "[B]ecause the only information sought in this request, straight life pension amounts, has already been provided to you . . . on October 9, 2017. The City confirmed that the information provided under your earlier request has not changed since that time."
Instead of formally appealing this bizarre denial, I emailed new Lansing mayor Andy Schor:
He chose not to intercede. His January 26 reply:
The formal response came February 2 from Carol Wood, who replaced Patricia Spitzley as city council president in January. She said my appeal was "defective because it does not conform to the City of Lansing's Policies and Procedures adopted by the City Council." Even so, it was her "decision, as the current City Council President, to uphold the denial of the documents."
It is clear that the City of Lansing - including Mayor Andy Schor - does not want the people of Lansing to know the true pension amounts of City retirees.
same information twice, and in my second request I asked for the actual pension calculation sheets. That is a lot different from the list of pension amounts provided in response to my first request. And it is not like it is going to cost the City anything. I paid $125.88 for that single-sheet list of pension amounts and I was prepared to pay the cost of copying those 20 calculation sheets.
As a matter of fact, the FOIA seems to favor source documents over compilations. It says specifically (this document, page 11) that the act does not require a public body to make a compilation, summary, or report of information. It appears that the City chose to make a compilation in order avoid revealing the true pension amounts the calculation sheets would show.
I have no recourse except to file a lawsuit. As the denial letter says,
Send comments, questions, and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text me at 517-505-2696. If you'd like to be notified by email when I post a new story, let me know.