NYC comptroller conceals pension costs

John Liu has declined to disclose information on $32m in pension fees paid to private equity and real estate managers, including whether placement agents received any money.

New York City Comptroller John Liu has declined to provide details on $32 million in “organisational” pension fees paid to private equity and real estate managers.

The New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), which has $41 billion in assets, reported $28 million in organisational expenses for private equity investments and $3 million for real estate, according to the pension system’s 2010 annual report. As of 31 May, New York’s pension system had $7.3 billion in private equity and $2.6 billion in real estate assets.

Bloomberg sought details about the fees, which Phillip Hom, Liu’s records access officer, declined to provide. Hom told the news service that the fees “are derived from information from private equity companies and real estate partnerships, which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position” of the firms, and that the information is exempt from New York State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Liu’s office also wouldn’t say whether placement agents received any of the money. Bloomberg is appealing the comptroller’s decision to keep the information private.

Liu serves as investment advisor, custodian and trustee of the five pension funds that comprise the city’s $121 billion pension system. NYCERS is the only fund out of the five that breaks out organisational costs separately. Hom and a spokesperson from Comptroller Liu’s office did not return calls by press time.

This is not Liu’s first time facing an FOIA request and the ensuing negative publicity from concealing information. In April 2010, Liu announced that he dismissed six managers for “poor performance” but refused to identify them all, even after several news organisations issued FOIA requests. Under pressure from media organisations wielding the power of open records laws, Liu finally named the managers last August.