T pension fund continuing fight to keep records secret
The MBTA pension fund is continuing a legal fight to keep its records private, said people with knowledge of the matter.
The attorney for the fund, Carl Valvo, briefed board members at a meeting Friday on “constitutional” reasons for privacy that he intends to make to a judge, the people said.
In a lawsuit brought by The Boston Globe, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger ruled in March that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s pension system records are public. But he allowed the board to make additional arguments against releasing them.
In an interview last week with the Globe, MBTA chief administrator Brian Shortsleeve urged the board not to “spend money fighting transparency.” But the board did not vote to drop the legal challenge, according to several people close to the fund and MBTA.
The pension fund is organized as a private trust and is separate from the T. But the authority provides tens of millions of dollars annually to the fund; members also make contributions.
A spokesman for the pension board, Steve Crawford, said the board met Friday behind closed doors with its legal counsel. He declined to comment further. The fund prohibits its six board members from speaking publicly about meetings.
The Globe sued after the fund refused in 2014 to release meeting minutes and other records concerning the loss of $25 million in a hedge fund recommended by a former chief of the pension fund.
At issue is whether the MBTA pension is subject to a 2013 amendment to Massachusetts public records law. Salinger ruled that it is, because the fund receives public money for pensions.
The judge has already dismissed several arguments against disclosure, including one that providing documents would amount to the “unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation.” Salinger said the pension board can charge reasonable fees to search and copy documents, as other entities subject to public records do.
The pension board’s lawyer has argued that disclosure could have a “chilling effect” on communications between the fund and its members. The judge said application of the public records law does not appear to violate either party’s free speech.
The pension board also wants to exempt what it considers trades secrets, such as records including details of its investments and deals with financial advisers. The judge indicated the fund could guard such records from the public under the same exemption the larger retirement system for state and local government employees enjoys.
In a statement Sunday, Shortsleeve said: “Taxpayers, T riders and T employees will contribute more than $100 million to the MBTA pension fund next fiscal year, and at current contribution levels, more than $1 billion over the next decade. It is critical for all stakeholders that the MBTA pension fund operate at the highest level of transparency.”