Pension Board Decisions Under Fire - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

Pension Board Decisions Under Fire

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Catherine Moss and Barbara Phillips stood their ground this week and held the support of a majority of the School Employees Retirement System board to attend a May conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Now, retirees and lawmakers are questioning whether changes on the board are needed.

The executive director of the School Employee Retirees of Ohio, Valerie Rodgers, says that in the face of mounting public criticism, she was surprised the board did not put the issue to rest by simply cancelling the trip. "I'm now getting calls from retirees asking why these board members are still on the board when they can't put retiree needs ahead of their own," Rodgers said.

In a letter earlier this month, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC), which advises the governor and the General Assembly on pension fund matters, urged the SERS Board to cancel the trip and adopt a policy setting limits on travel expenses.

According to documents provided by ORSC, the SERS board members racked up $159,078 in travel and conference expenses in 2012. The SERS board member expenses were more than those of the state's four other pension funds combined.

School Employees Retirement System (SERS)  $159,078

Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS)   $54,002

State Teachers Retirement System (STRS)  $52,715

Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F)  $13,385

Highway Patrol Retirement System (HPRS)  $9,239

Yesterday, the board also rejected a revised travel policy more in line with the others limiting annual travel expenses to six thousand dollars a year per board member. The ORSC has urged the board to adopt the plan to become more in line with the policies of the other pension funds.

Board member Barbara Phillips bristled at what she perceived as outside interference. "This is serious and to be threatened that something is going to be taken away - I want to consider it but I want to consider with the facts not out of fear," Phillips said.

Democratic Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus said her preference is for the board to make its own decisions but that the decisions this week will only strengthen the possibility of lawmakers stepping in.

"When they see imprudent judgments being made, then it calls into question whether or not the legislature should make some other parameters to give them guidance on what they can and cannot do."

The SERS board has one more meeting scheduled in April before the May conference in Hawaii.

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