Public Policy
  Analysis, opinion & ideas from Steve Harry



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

I accept that this is the law. However, the information regarding the calculation of the benefit could be redacted. That would consist of the final average compensation (FAC), which is of no interest to me. My only interest is the "full retirement allowance" or "straight life amount." I already have retirement date, retirement age and service amount, all of which are provided in Retirement Board meeting minutes. 

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:


Dear Mayor Schor,

Attached is a denial of a FOIA request I sent on January 3.

The denial of my request is unlawful for two reasons. One is that the FOIA does not say a person cannot request the same information twice. The other is that the documents I requested were not provided in the previous responses. In the previous responses, I received a list of retirees and pension amounts. What I requested this time is the source documents - the pension calculation sheets. I doubt that the "full retirement allowance" aka "straight life pension amount" on those pension calculation sheets will match the amounts provided in response to my previous requests, and the reluctance of the Retirement Office and the City Attorney's Office to provide the calculation sheets only increases my suspicion. 

I respectfully request that you intercede on my behalf and order the Retirement Office/City Attorney's Office to provide the documents I requested.


Steve Harry


He chose not to intercede. His January 26 reply:

Mr Harry, 

I will refer this request to the City Attorney to review as a FOIA request according to Michigan law. 



Andy Schor 

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.


Council president Wood may have a personal interest in concealing the pension amounts of police and firefighters. She was elected to council in 1999 and has been on the board of the Police & Fire Retirement System going back at least as far as 2010. Her campaigns have had the endorsements of the police and firefighters unions. As a P&F board member, she has seen the P&F retirement fund go from a surplus in 2003 to a $130 million deficit as of December 31, 2016 without sounding an alarm or offering solutions.


Bizarre denial


As I said in my email to Mayor Schor, the denial of my request for pension calculation sheets is unlawful. There is nothing in the Freedom of Information Act that says a person cannot request the

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,



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