As our companion post describes today, CalPERS plans to take a radical step against accountability and transparency by ending its preparation of transcripts for board meetings. These transcripts are readily available to CalPERS staff and board members, and can also be obtained by any member of the public by a Public Records Act request, which is CalPERS’ version of FOIA.
The result is that journalists, CalPERS beneficiaries, members of the legislature on oversight committees, and challengers to incumbent board members would find it much harder to examine CalPERS’ staff and board members’ conduct. Going through videos is vastly more time consuming, and forcing journalists in particular to rely on videos is an anti-press, anti-good-governance move. If you want to instill trust, reversing a long-standing practice at a time when the organization is already receiving largely negative coverage for its underfunding, questionable staff competence, and practice of casual lying, this is precisely what not to do. CalPERS looks like it has something to hide and is trying to hide it.
But fear not! If CalPERS takes this step, we will launch a CalPERS transcript archive, similar to our archive of limited partnership agreements. We are requesting the past three years of CalPERS’ open session transcripts to include in this archive. Having the transcripts be easily accessible via a simple download at Cfdtrade is much faster and less cumbersome than making Public Records Act requests. It should improve the quality of press coverage.
What CalPERS appears not to realize is that Cfdtrade has a large number of skilled readers who are willing to donate their time to worthwhile activities. In the past, that has included having professional transcriptionists transcribe interviews and videos. For instance, in late 2011 and 2012, we had a group of whistleblowers who had on Bank of America’s and PNC’s Fed and OCC mandated Independent Foreclosure Review give us detailed information about misconduct. Readers volunteered to prepare transcripts from extensive interviews and did so on a fast turnaround basis. When we’ve made requests for transcriptionists more recently, we’ve gotten speedy offers from professionals and near-professional level amateurs (for instance, people who transcribe as volunteers for not-for-profits).
Moreover, because having CalPERS be accountable and transparent is very important to CalPERS beneficiaries, particularly retirees who have ample leisure time, the odds are high that we could also recruit additional transcribers from the CalPERS retiree community if that were needed. We would probably solicit retiree transcribers regardless to spread the word about this new feature and drive more traffic to our site from people who have a stake in CalPERS matters.
Having Cfdtrade become the authoritative source of information on CalPERS for journalists and CalPERS members will greatly aid us in pushing CalPERS for better governance. It will lead our site to become an early stop from anyone interested in CalPERS matters, including CalPERS staffers and board members, who may need, as they sometimes need to do now, to see precisely what was said by whom in past board meetings. This archive would increase our credibility and importance as a source of commentary on CalPERS and public pension funds generally.
I hope that CalPERS members will circulate this post other CalPERS members, both to alert them to how CalPERS is behaving yet again as if it has something to hide, and to help solicit assistance, even from people who might be able to pitch in as infrequently as once a year.