New London officials won't disclose pension payments

Wouldn't it be interesting, in this budget referendum season, to see a list of retired New London city employees and the pension payments they receive?

Well, don't count on seeing it anytime soon, even though it is clearly public information.

In fact, it appears to be a big city secret. (A secret, which, naturally, should make everyone want to see it all the more.)

I first heard about the secrecy of city pension payments this week from budget watchdog Avner Gregory, a city homeowner, landlord and former member of the Board of Education.

Gregory asked for the list of pension payments in June. Yes, June, before a big part of summer came and went. Think of all the watermelons that grew fat on the vine and got eaten since then.

Gregory shared with me some of the correspondence about his pension payments request with Jane Glover, chief administrative officer of the city and principal aide to Mayor Finizio.

"I am in receipt of your Freedom of Information request," Glover wrote back to Gregory on June 8.

She advised him in that letter that the retirement benefits might not be available in a digital format, asked him to refine his request in writing, and added: "I may be able to provide some, if not all, the information you are seeking."

And so began the 3 months of stonewalling, what Gregory calls the runaround he's been given.

Indeed, despite numerous visits to City Hall and the submission of more written requests, Gregory has not gotten his list. And tick tock, tick tock, the referendum on the city budget, which Gregory is lobbying city voters to reject, looms on Tuesday.

Most recently, Gregory got a letter from the city saying the information, as he requested it, is not available at this time.

The previous year of information, for retirees through June 30, 2011, is available, the letter said.

OK, Gregory said he responded, I will take that.

I'm sorry, he said he was then told, but you would have to submit that request in writing.

I asked Mayor Finizio, who, by the way ran on a platform of open government, on Wednesday about Gregory's request. The mayor said he would get the material this week.

Well, Thursday's business day came and went, and Gregory said he had not received anything.

Taking months to respond to a taxpayer's legitimate freedom of information request is shameful.

But I was even more surprised to hear that even City Councilor Adam Sprecace has been unable to obtain the pension information.

Sprecace confirmed this when I tracked him down Thursday.

The councilor added that he is troubled in general about the lack of budget information being made available to city voters in advance of Tuesday's vote.

A whole range of budget numbers that have routinely been made public in the past, even posted online - from details on debt service to the amount of money in enterprise funds and the capital budget - have been left out of the latest public version of the budget, Sprecace said.

A list of city employees and their salaries, which has been included in past budgets, is also missing from the latest one, Sprecace said, even though that tabulation of salaries is actually required by city ordinance to be made public.

Sprecace is urging city voters to reject the budget, even though he thinks its 7.5 percent tax increase might be reasonable, because the administration has refused to provide a complete accounting to the public.

Sprecace said he first began asking for a full public documentation of budget numbers in June, when watermelons had just started growing.

I give Mayor Finizio credit for his recent series of public forums to answer questions and explain the budget. But he needs to make sure, as an elected city councilor suggests, that all budget details are made public.

And he has all of today and Saturday to make good on his assurances that Gregory will this week get the pension information he requested so long ago, before the summer's watermelons ever began to grow fat.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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