T’s pension board is urged to end fight against open records
MBTA chief administrator Brian Shortsleeve is urging the transit authority’s pension board to embrace a judge’s ruling on opening its records to the public.
“It would be a big mistake for the T pension board to spend money fighting transparency,” Shortsleeve said this week in an interview.
Last month, a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that the $1.6 billion retirement system is subject to the state’s public records law because it receives tens of millions of dollars in public funds annually from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The pension fund is organized as a private trust and has long used that as a reason to conduct its business out of the public eye.
The fund’s lawyer, Carl Valvo, has said in court that he plans to present further “constitutional” arguments for privacy to Judge Kenneth W. Salinger in the coming months. If those fail, the pension board also could appeal the open records decision.
The fund’s board is scheduled to hold its monthly meeting Friday and is expected to discuss the matter, according to two people briefed on the plan.
The retirement board has six members, including three who represent union workers. The other three were appointed by Governor Charlie Baker in June to bring greater openness and oversight to the pension system.
A seventh board member, a lawyer, votes in the case of a tie. In the past, she has voted against making the pension fund’s records available to the public.
Other pension funds for public workers in the Commonwealth are subject to public records requests and hold open meetings. In general, the T pension system has made only two documents public: a newsletter with its preliminary investment return each year, followed by an annual report.
The Globe sued the pension fund after it refused in 2014 to disclose documents related to a $25 million hedge fund loss.
Shortsleeve said that while the pension fund is an independent entity, “We in the state are a very large funding source.” He said he agreed with the judge’s ruling, noting, “I think everything the pension does should be public.”
Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the pension board, declined to comment on whether the board would continue to fight for privacy in court.
He said the fund’s 2014 annual report — now more than a year late — will be released after KPMG completes its audit of the fund.
“We’re looking forward to seeing it,’’ Shortsleeve said.
The fund has had below-average investment returns for the past two years and is facing rising obligations to its members. The board recently released a consulting report that it said refuted criticism last summer by financial specialists, including Wall Street whistle-blower Harry Markopolos, that the pension fund has overstated its health.
The board members appointed by Baker include a former state treasurer, Steve Grossman; Mike Heffernan, who also serves on the state pension board; and Betsy Taylor, a state Department of Transportation board member.