Pension Bill Veto Would Be A Strike Against ‘Clown Politics’

The Indianapolis Star — (ICOG President) Marian Pearcy’s rude introduction to what she terms “clown politics” occurred in 1995, in her home county of Harrison in southern Indiana.

Pension bill veto would be a strike against ‘clown politics’

The Indianapolis Star
By Ruth Holladay

(March 18, 2004) Marian Pearcy’s rude introduction to what she terms “clown politics” occurred in 1995, in her home county of Harrison in southern Indiana.

A County Council member with a vendetta against a 4-H officer tried to have the woman fired, Pearcy says. Instead of meeting publicly to air the beef, the councilman sent a letter, purportedly signed by all the council members, to Purdue University, which administers the 4-H program, demanding that the woman be canned. One problem: The man who drafted the document forged the signatures of fellow members.

“It was almost comical, but not really. My husband and I decided we had to get involved,” recalls Pearcy, a 69-year-old lawyer.

She sued the council, charging members with violating the open meeting law. She won, and hooray for the good guys.

Now, nine years later, it’s anybody’s guess whether she and other like-minded citizen watchdogs will win the next one, which, they say, is the big one.

This time their focus is on House Enrolled Act 1285, a measure that sailed through our legislature in the final hours — everybody in the Senate voted for it. So did the entire House, save for four brave Republican souls: Dennis Kruse of Auburn, Michael Ripley of Monroe, Tom Saunders of Lewisville and Dean Young of Hartford City. It’s now on Gov. Joe Kernan’s desk, where it will either be signed or vetoed by him today.

The proposed law is heavy with implications for the public’s right to know. It would keep secret the details about our legislators’ generous pensions and other benefits. Also closed would be pension figures for judges, police, prosecutors and firefighters.

This, says Pearcy, is huge. “In corporations, stockholders can get information about what the executives are earning. Citizens are like stockholders; we have a right to know public employees’ salaries, which includes benefits.”

Joining in the amen chorus are others in the organization she helped found, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, and news groups — the Society of Professional Journalists, the Indiana Association of Black Journalists, the Hoosier State Press Association and the Indiana Broadcasters Association.

If this sounds like insider baseball, it isn’t. As pointed out by The Indianapolis Star’s Statehouse reporter Michele McNeil Solida on Monday, for every $1 legislators pay into their pensions, taxpayers cough up $4. It’s a cushy deal, and we, the people, are entitled to keep track of pension funds, to make sure they aren’t manipulated.

However, the bill has plenty of supporters, including the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. Spokesmen for each group expressed their concerns: If the bill is not signed into law, everybody will have access not only to pension figures, but also to other sensitive information. When most open public records are released, personal details such as Social Security numbers usually are left out. Why couldn’t the law require keeping such data confidential?

Talk about funny politics — both Tom Hanify of the firefighters and Steve Johnson of the prosecutors group agree that legislators’ pension amounts should be public, as well as pension figures for the public servants they represent.

The conclusion? HEA 1285 is a crummy bill that was rushed through and will make bad law. If Kernan vetoes it, he deserves applause for doing the right thing. He can still tell legislators to come back next year with a smarter bill.