Friday, July 14, 2006

Jim N. Reed to Gov. Taft: Tom Hall has 'the right stuff' for the job

July 13, 2006
Governor Taft, recently, a resignation in a STRS Board chair has opened the door to hope for many retirees who have suffered due to an out-of touch mentality on that board.
An attitude of entitlement has placed tens of thousands of retired professional educators and their families jeopardy. ORC 3307.15 has been abused by Board members and Executive Directors who have little understanding of their constituents' plights brought on by a horrendous accounting of STRS assets over the last decade.
The roll call of the obscene financial decision-making is surreal. Some of the misspending is pure negligence toward the stakeholders. Some is boardroom greed and arrogance. Accountability to the retirees has been shuffled to the back burner while corporate greed and corruption has moved front and center.
One of the culprits is a lack of qualification for this critically important position. Far too many board members have come to their chairs without the necessary credentials. The position has become one of social status and that has turned into a loss of purpose as written into law.
Dr. Tom Hall of Miami University is genuinely qualified for the position to be filled. One only has to review his credentials. Dr. Hall was by far the most prepared candidate in the recent STRS Board election for an active teacher seat. Unfortunately, for actives and retirees Dr. Hall's 13,000 votes came up short.
This is an opportunity for you to put your signature on the current Board that is struggling through a Renaissance but corrections are being made. Dr. Hall would mean that more help is on the way.
Please consider Dr. Tom Hall's appointment to the STRS Board.
Jim N. Reed
41-year professional Ohio educator

Sondra Stratton to Ramser, Fisher and Taft: We need Tom Hall on the STRS Board

Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 3:36 PM
Subject: Fwd: The resignation

Ms. Ramser, Ms. Fisher, and Governor Taft,
I highly concur with Mrs. Cuthburt! As one who has been involved since the beginning of learning of the STRS abuses, I find the continued arrogance and incompetence appalling!! Governor Taft, you listened to those in your party who had also done wrong by the retired teachers in OH by line item vetoing the investigation of STRS by the Inspector General. Ms. Montgomery and Mr. Petro had much to loose by said investigation. MS. Ramser, you are OEA and still do not understand what has happened at STRS and I seriously doubt you really care. You ( and Dr. Brown) have been underhanded at the things you have tried to pull to keep discussions from occurring. You should be the next to step down!
Ms. Ramser, I believe if Ms. Fisher wanted the reasons, etc. know about her resignation, it should have come from her mouth. I believe you have really hurt yourself and if I were on the board, you and I would have serious trouble from here on out! I doubt that will be the case with Dr. Leone as he is there to see that STRS gets fixed, not to be petty with other board members. Perhaps, it is you who needs to be an "adult" for your behavior has not been very adult-like. Ms. Fisher's resignation further shows that she was NOT aware of all the problems at STRS and the resolve of retirees to get them solved!!!!!!!! It would seem the same is true with you, Ms. Ramser.
Thank goodness Ms Fisher has given up and resigned! She has not been a credit to STRS in the first place and I sincerely hope that you, Gov. Taft, will choose someone who has the fortitude to follow the law and represent retirees ( and actives) in the manner in which they wish to be represented!
Please consider Tom Hall for this position. We will never get this system back on track without people who understand where we retirees are and how we live must live. We MUST have some who is compassionate and seriously concerned about the welfare of STRS and retirees present and future!!!
Retirees are going nowhere and will stick this out until every board member who is there for other reasons than following 3307.15 are gone and this system is fixed. If we have to SHOUT to make those who pretend to be deaf, hear, then so be it!
Sondra Stratton
CORE member and organizer
Past Pres. of Brown County Retired Teachers Association

Conni: Please stick to the issues, not personalities

From Kathie Bracy, July 14, 2006
I believe you owe Ms. Fisher and Dr. Leone an apology for being so presumptuous as to publicly name Dr. Leone as the reason for Ms. Fisher's resignation from the STRS Board.
In addition, for the sake of your own reputation, you need to take a closer look at your own motives for criticizing Dr. Leone's behavior. If the issues were being addressed properly, in accordance with ORC 3307.15, there would be absolutely no reason for "explosive behavior" on the part of ANY member of that Board, including your buddy, the "shutter-upper," Dr. Brown.
This is not your classroom. When anyone "misbehaves," there has to be a reason for it. Before you take it upon yourself to criticize Dr. Leone's behavior again, especially in public, you would do well to do the adult thing: ASK him what the problem is. I certainly hope this is what you do for the children in your class; why should you do any less for a Ph.D. former superintendent with an endless list of well deserved honors and accolades?
Now, do the adult thing: apologize to BOTH, before our estimation of you plummets any further. Otherwise, if you can't stand the heat, please do the Judith Fisher thing and get the %#*!! out of the kitchen. You aren't there to make criticisms on a personal level; YOU ARE THERE TO DO A JOB: ORC 3307.15. Please -- stick to the ISSUES, not personalities!!!
Kathie Bracy
STRS Retiree

From Sondra Stratton: VSP Alert

July 14, 2006
Subject: VSP ALERT

This is an alert about your vision insurance if you have taken VSP from STRS. I had an eye exam a couple weeks ago and got glasses. No problem. According to the papers, you can get a second pair for 20% off. Well, that may or may not be true. I didn't want to spend big bucks at the doctor's office getting computer/piano glasses so I went to Wal-Mart where I could get them for about 1/2 the price. They told me that Wal-Mart does not submit insurance forms but that I could get a form and send it in myself and it should be covered.
SO, I chose a pair of glasses I liked but were a little more than I wanted spend thinking the 20% would cover the extra cost. NOT! Just so you know, you must go to a VSP provider or the doctor who examined your eyes. VSP gave me the story that I had to have a prescription which I HAD!!
I told them it STINKS!!!!! If they cover the second pair of glasses at 20% for a provider, they should also have coverage if we choose to send it in ourselves. I just don't get it. We can go to an out of network person for other things and it will be covered perhaps at a lower % % but covered none the less. NOT SO FOR VSP COVERAGE.
SO the moral of the story is if you want the second pair of glasses at 20% get them from your eye doctor IF HE IS A PROVIDER otherwise, you have NO COVERAGE!!!!

Comments from Nancy Hamant and John Curry re: Dr. Puckett

From Nancy Hamant, July 14, 2006
Personally, I worked with Dr. Puckett and found him to be a man of integrity. The work on the STRS Board is very difficult when you consider that for years the Executive Director had full reign and even today the practice of spending administrative dollars without contracts or oversight is one for debate. Thank goodness, Dennis Leone and John Lazares prevailed in keeping the amount to $100,000.
From John Curry, July 14, 2006
Nancy - Dr. Puckett may very well be a man of integrity, but if he doesn't speak up and either initiate reform or vote in a "reform pattern" on STRS issues he is of no use to this retiree. He is an appointee of Zelman who has been close to a "zero" when it comes to her vigilance over the charter school fiasco in Ohio. John

Letter to Gov. Taft: Appoint Tom Hall to STRS Board

From Kathie Bracy, July 14, 2006
Subject: Candidate for STRS Board (to replace Fisher)

Dear Governor Taft,
I wish to recommend Dr. Tom Hall, economics professor and contributing member of STRS, as a replacement for Judith Fisher, your appointee who resigned her STRS Board position this week.
Dr. Hall is extremely qualified and highly motivated to do the job. Moreover, being "one of us," he is far more likely than most to have the interests of active and retired members at heart.
I believe you have already received some information on Dr. Hall. Here is a paragraph from his campaign flyer, used in the spring Board election, that summarizes his qualifications:
Professor Tom Hall of Miami University holds a doctorate in economics, with experience at the US State Department Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs, serving on the Planning and Economic Analysis Staff. He has authored numerous books and articles on business cycles, market structure performance, velocity and variability of monetary growth, economic fluctuations and productivity. His prolific background and expertise in investments, market trends and economics enable Tom Hall to bring his valuable skills and knowledge to the STRS Board. He understands how the economy operates and factors which impact the values of stocks, bonds, and real estate, which constitute the bulk of the STRS investment portfolio.
In addition to his qualifications, Dr. Hall relates well to educators and their needs, something that was sorely lacking in Ms. Fisher.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to appoint Dr. Tom Hall to the STRS Retirement Board.
Thank you.
Kathie Bracy
STRS Retiree (37.7 years)
A constituent who voted for you

Evelyn Cuthbert: Fisher's resignation

From: Evelyn Cuthbert, Fri, July 14, 2006
Subject: The resignation
Dear Ms Ramser, Ms Fisher and Governor Taft:
I am the wife of a retiree and have been involved in educating myself for the past several years in the operations at STRS since the loss of our 13th check, the outrageous cost of our healthcare, and after reading Dennis Leone's list of facts and outrageous expenditures at STRS.
I was appalled at the reason, Ms Fisher, you gave for your resignation. I have only known Dr. Leone for the past several years but I have found him to act only in a professional manor and in many types of circumstances. He is not the type to display actions that would jeopardize his credibility. He has done so much good and is well known. It's only because of Dennis and John Lazares that changes were made at all at STRS. I will, however, say he is probably passionate about doing things the right way to prevent any other catastrophes from inept decisions. He is looking to the future with 20-20 hindsight.
I find that some women in positions of power don't often embrace someone who has such passionate feelings toward their responsibilities and in this case fiduciary responsibilities especially women who have never been in a position of power before. An example may be cautioning the approval of contracts without having the contract in hand or reviewing the contract and taking at face value the Director's mere explanation of it's contents -- yet approving the contract. This to me defies logic and common sense. Some women look at such passion and expertise with cool reserve and do the opposite of what is necessary since those suggestions may not have been initiated by the women themselves or they may feel that a man is telling them what to do and they don't appreciate the expertise.
In my opinion if you felt "driven to resign", you must not have possessed the confidence in yourself necessary for the round table and your ability to debate the issues. This makes you sound unable to cope. There is a lot of pressure there and there should be -- tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars depend on your decisions and many of us who know about the outrageous expenditures do not trust most of you -- you have not proven yourselves to us. It's not all baseball games, Broadway shows and trips to Alaska anymore. What you do may cause even more lawsuits from those who are hired to serve us and not vise versa.
I guess it also depends on what frame of reference you serve as a board member. From what I have seen and heard, Dennis' main goal is to prevent further injury to the system and prevent any further inept decisions that will cost us more in millions like the handling of the lawsuit from the STRS employees.
When it comes to respect, in my opinion that there are 2 kinds. The respect one has for human life and people in general and the respect for a colleague and their professional expertise. Respect in the latter is something that is earned through actions.

Letter to Dr. Zelman: Time to replace Puckett

To: Dr. Susan T. Zelman,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

From: Kathie Bracy

Re: Dr. Steven Puckett

Date: July 14, 2006

Dear Dr. Zelman,

I wish to call your attention to your representative on the STRS Board, Dr. Steven Puckett.

I would like to know if you have provided any kind of personal oversight regarding his performance on the Board. If you haven't, then you need to. If you have, then I am extremely disappointed in your performance standards as a member of this Board.

I have been closely observing the Board for about two years. There is a saying that goes “Do something; lead, follow or get out of the way.” It is time for Dr. Puckett to get out of the way, because I see absolutely no effort on his part to lead or follow in any manner beneficial to retirees.

Furthermore, his overall attitude is abominable. Watching him, one gets the impression he would rather be anywhere except inside the STRS building, particularly the sixth floor Board Room.

When Jim Petro and Betty Montgomery’s representatives sat on the Board, no apparent oversight was provided, and STRS sank to the lowest, most shameful period in its history. Retirees will pay forever for the corruption that was rampant under the Retirement Board of that era, in terms of dollars and shortened lives.

To continue allowing Dr. Puckett to represent you will indicate that either (a) you do not provide oversight or (b) you simply don't care.

There are thousands of retirees who DO care, as their lives depend on the decisions of that Board, and it is imperative that only the best people be selected to serve. We deserve better than what Dr. Puckett has to offer.

Please rescind Dr. Puckett’s appointment as your representative on the STRS Board as soon as possible and find a more suitable replacement; someone who is truly interested in helping the membership, and preferably one who is a member of STRS him/herself. If you care, you need to show it.

Thank you.

Kathie Bracy

37.7 year STRS retiree

STRS Board observer

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Any resemblance to someone we know?

Al Rhonemus: Kudos for Dennis and John

July 13, 2006
Dear Dennis:
Having been a leader in my school district for years, and a board member for 8 years, I know how easy it is to say I GIVE UP, because others criticize our motives to improve the life of others. Thank God I did not give up then nor will I do so as long as I have health and stamina to keep on keeping on.
So please HANG in there despite criticism by Judith and Conni. You and John are on the right track, and please keep up the good work. I believe it will take time to get completely back, but every little effort helps.
Somehow I have lost the e-mail address for John, please convey my same message to him. You two are special and I believe things will become better in the near future. You are in our Prayers every day, and again we thank you for your leadership.
Al Rhonemus
Looks like some heads rolled back then, too.

Dennis Leone to Molly Ganz: 'Just 2 people with similar concerns'

July 13, 2006
Thank you Molly, for your words of encouragement. John L says it best when he says that we are not on this board to develop buddy friendships with the other board members. In fact -- if the truth be known -- John and I don't even socialize together. We are just 2 people with similar concerns.
Thank you again for your kind comments.
Dennis Leone
Molly Ganz to Dennis Leone and John Lazares, July 13, 2006
Subject: Fisher & Ramser
I just read that insulting rhetoric spewed by Connie Ramser and Judy Fisher ... esp Ramser. Please do not surrender to their mean-spirited tactics. The work you are doing is historical in nature and must continue. This has to be discouraging, but you're made of stronger stuff and you have so many teachers backing you. Hang in there guys.
Sincerely yours,
Molly Ganz

Reactions continue from around the state re: Fisher resignation

July 13, 2006
From George Doyle:
I have put this in this month's newsletter for all who wish from our Association to write to the Governor and suggest that he appoint Tom Hall to replace Fisher. I also suggested that we send an election flyer to the Governor because this lists all of his qualifications so well.
George Doyle
From Ryan Holderman:
I've been sitting here in front of my computer screen dumbfounded by the comments attributed to STRS Board President Constance Ramser and member Judith Fisher! They've stooped to the now all-to-familiar tactic of attacking the messenger when they cannot refute the message. It reminds me of those who attack the patriotism of anyone who dares raise their voice in opposition to our present national leadership or questions the motives of anyone who questions the actions of those in leadership positions.
The STRS board is not a social organization. Board members were not elected so that they could attend ball games, enjoy a few rounds of golf, take in the latest theater production and bond over a lovely meal! Board meetings are supposed to be the forum where the oversight of our pension fund is discussed, ideas are exchanged, and decisions in keeping with the charge of ORC 3307.15 are voted upon and executed. Invoking "civility" as an reason for stifling frank discussion is a pathetic attempt to intimidate and demean anyone with the valiancy to speak against the majority!
The open discussions that have taken place since John Lazares and Dennis Leone were elected to the STRS Board have increased the transparency of the Board's actions, stimulated careful examination of the way business is conducted, and guaranteed that the rubber stamping of items brought before the Board will be met with resistance by those who have pledged to protect our retirement funds.
The vitriol hurled at Dr. Leone is hurled at all who dare challenge those who are entrenched in a business-as-usual mindset. Anyone who advocates reform is targeted as a "malcontent" or "trouble-maker". Changes in the rules for participating in the public speaking sessions at the STRS Board meetings, attempts to quash responses by Board members to those who address the board and attempts to limit the discussion of motions before the Board have all failed to silence those who engage in discussion, dissent, and criticism.
Ohio's teachers, both active and retired, will be heard. We will continue to elect representatives to the STRS Board who will speak loudly, insistently, and forcefully in there effort to move forward and bring reform to our retirement system. Dennis Leone and John Lazares have dared to do just that. I challenge other board members to step forward and support their efforts and defend their right to speak their mind.
For too many years STRS was governed by individuals with an imperial attitude and ingrained sense of entitlement.
Never, never, never again!
Sincerely, Ryan Holderman
From Teresa Pressler:
I'm glad that she has resigned. ANYONE who does not act on teachers' best interests should be gone. I've had it with the arrogance. I've got a sister-in-law whose afraid to retire after 30+ years because she's afraid that she can't pay the premiums to insure her husband. Those pesky retirees any way!!!

John Curry's commentary on Fisher's resignation: Some Board members need to read/reread ORC 3307.15

"Dr. Leone didn't win the Ohio Ethics Award, the First Amendment Award and the title "Catcher of Thieves" by choosing to leave the battle when the going got tough and the chips were down. He continued to speak up and fight for the rights of both actives and retirees -- he continued to press for reform, as he is currently doing, to and for the betterment of over 400,000 people who have monies and lives invested in a multi-billion dollar operation whose mission is clearly stated in 3307.15 of the Ohio Revised Code. Some of the current crop of Board members should review this section-or-maybe read it for the first time!"
July 13, 2006
It's a sad day in Columbus when some on the STRS Board don't realize that reform is taking place right under their very eyes and that they don't understand that with reform come differences of opinion and disagreements. Taking one's football and leaving the game due to disagreements in formulating policy and procedure is not helping those retirees who have to decide on whether to spend their meager retirement checks on food, Rx, or healthcare.
Both Dennis Leone and John Lazares have walked the walk and talked the talk for cleaning up the entitlement mentality, mismanagement, and misspending that has plagued the STRS Board (and the system's leadership) for years. Some members to the Board still don't realize the devastation that STRS retirees continue to be plagued with on a daily basis. We all don't have the bankroll to live on as do some of those who make decisions on how and where our monies are spent - like the proposed one million dollar carte blanche blank check that some wanted Damon to be able to spend without prior board approval. A corporate mind-set has no place on a board that makes humanitarian decisions re. the welfare of its fiduciaries.
Dr. Leone didn't win the Ohio Ethics Award, the First Amendment Award and the title "Catcher of Thieves" by choosing to leave the battle when the going got tough and the chips were down. He continued to speak up and fight for the rights of both actives and retirees -- he continued to press for reform, as he is currently doing, to and for the betterment of over 400,000 people who have monies and lives invested in a multi-billion dollar operation whose mission is clearly stated in 3307.15 of the Ohio Revised Code. Some of the current crop of Board members should review this section-or-maybe read it for the first time!
John Curry - a Proud CORE member and STRS retiree
Paris celebrating Bastille Day, July 14
Claude Monet

Reactions to Fisher's resignation

July 13, 2006
From John Bos
I feel more comfortable this morning that Dennis Leone is representing my interests on the STRS Board. Judith Fisher just did not get the picture regarding the role of the STRS Board. The members have a responsibility to represent the retirees and actives to provide the best retirement system that is possible. Dennis and John stand at the top of the stairs in performing their roles to make improvements.
The comments made by Conni R. are MOST disturbing. What are the real issues behind her statement? OEA control? Personal control? Upset about the Ohio Ethics Commission? I believe that she has the responsibility to communicate to Dennis and the membership regarding her statements.
There is no excuse for her behavior regarding these issues!!!!
John Bos
From Shirlee Zerkel:

Not much was said in favor of Dennis and not really any comment from him. Boy, we need Conni off the board as well. She certainly is feeling brave in her comments since she was re-elected to the board by the OEA actives.
Wonder when Dennis' real story will come out. I think the Judi Fisher resignation and Conni upholding her is geared to trying to get Leone to resign so that OEA can have their way on the board. Dennis has upset that 'apple cart' as he should have. Dennis certainly has nothing to feel bad about -- he is a wonderful, caring person and his emotional reactions to things are not childish. Remember even Jesus got mad in the temple and overturned the money lenders tables. Jesus is our example; good people need to right the wrongs of the world. I resent all of them so much now because of what they are trying to do to Dennis.
From Sondra Stratton:
Good riddance to bad rubbish!!!! Retirees put Dennis Leone and John Lazares on the STRS board because they were LOOKING OUT FOR US. Ms. Fisher simply does not get this. I believe she was one who was offended by what retirees had to say when she first was appointed to the board! She was also the one to state, at a meeting last year, when John Lazares recommended they NOT do business with any companies that have committed ethics violations, that she did not see the need for that. Because they ( businesses or companies) had ethics violation should not be of concern to them and they should continue to do business as usual. That speaks VOLUMES!!!!
From everything I have read, I believe that a little respect and civility to Dennis Leone might be in need. Recently, Brown screamed at Leone to "SHUT UP!"
We have put these two men in those seats to do exactly what they are doing....represent retirees ( and actives). TO PROTECT OUR RETIREMENT MONEY AND GET THINGS BACK ON TRACK. While there have been many improvements in the last 3-4 years since retirees got involved, after reading the reports done my Dr. Leone, I believe that most of the STRS board members ( as well as Damon Asbury and many employees) STILL just simply do not get it. If we had classes for board members, some would definitely be in the slow learner's class!!!!
For what it is worth, I hope Ms. Fisher doesn't let the door crack her on the way out. Perhaps, we retirees could offer to hold the door for Ms. Fisher on her way out of STRS as we offered for Jack Chapman!!!!!
Thanks for all the effort you have put into this mess over the past years!
Sondra Stratton
From George Doyle:
It sounds to me like they are trying to put pressure on Dennis! I hope he keeps it up and they ALL RESIGN!!!!! Why put out dirty laundry to dry! Clean it first so that the public can see a nice clean wash! I am disappointed that Conni would say such things, when Judy would not mention any names. I have said from the beginning, they don't want Dennis and John there so they are going to do everything in their power to malign them and try to get the membership against them. Too bad, 'cause it ain't gonna' happen!
A little well-timed and appropriate history lesson from Ms. Bracy. I think I see another mob of angry retirees walking down West Broad Street! "The wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind fine" - ever so fine.
John, today-a much prouder CORE member
From Kathie Bracy:
I can't help noticing Judith Fisher's resignation occurred the same week as the 217th anniversary of Bastille Day, that gleaming moment in history when the citizens of France, angry and tired of the arrogance and oppression of their Old Guard (the regime of Louis XVI), stormed the Bastille prison and tore down the walls, setting off their own Revolution. Is there a parallel here? It certainly appears that another wall has come down at STRS this week. Reform and revolution are alive and well, thanks to Board members Dennis Leone and John Lazares.
Kathie Bracy

From Elfrieda Ramseyer:
Molly...thanks for sending this letter to the governor .... I knew very little about Judith Fisher and appreciate your comments ... it is apparent that it is good she has resigned .... am hopeful we get someone who will support Leone and Lazarus ... continued thanks for your constant efforts.
Elfrieda Landes Ramseyer
Retired Nurse Educator
Molly: Thank you! I heard her exchange with Lazares MYSELF! Also, her comments regarding the other items are public as said and voted on in board meetings.
From Mary Jordan:
Years ago my brother and I were having a discussion when Mother came into the room and firmly said, "Kids, quit arguing!" I quickly replied, "We are not arguing. We are having a discushiment! That is a discussion with the intensity of an argument."
Fisher must be used to people treating her as a financial goddess whose opinion, idea,or whatever is the only correct one. She expected her word to be the final one and no one should disagree or have a different opinion. Unfortunately she has no real understanding of people who have to live at a much lower income level and how important every dollar is to us and the true meaning of what is stated in the Ohio Revised Code Section 3307.15. She must not have liked her adventure into the real world if she considered "a board member" to be "verbally castigating, impugning and maligning Board actions, behaving ... in an emotionally abusive manner on repeated occasions.”
Dennis and John do understand how important every dollar is to us retirees. They do understand there are not a privileged few who deserve many perks and bonuses. They do understand even low paid employees deserve to have every penny they have earned as is stated in Ohio Revised Code concerning retirees' money. We retirees are very thankful Dennis and John do understand.
As for Conni saying, "If he was a student in my classroom, he would have probably been suspended. Basic civility you learn as a child... At some point, an adult has to act like an adult.” How sad it is for the pupils in her class that she is so authoritative that her pupils would not be permitted to speak with intense passion on something that is very important to them. Think of the learning her students would miss and perhaps how her understanding would be increased! Ideas could be discussed. Dennis discusses ideas and issues not personalities.
And as for Conni's continued remark that "At some point, an adult has to act like an adult.” An adult has to have adult understand which requires following the laws of the State of Ohio and having empathy for those who are not living at the same level of income as you are. Both Judith and Conni apparently need to develop those adult values. How frustrating it must be for Dennis to try to teach these adults the understanding and values they lack.
As a retiree, I am extremely thankful for Dennis's intense passion and understanding of the ORVC and his persistence in trying to follow the law.
It would have been super if Conni and Fisher would have participated in the discushiment. More problems could have been solved.
Mary Jordan
Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789

Paul Kostyu on Fisher's resignation

Strife leads STRS board member to resign
Canton Repository
July 13, 2006
By Paul E. Kostyu, Copley Columbus Bureau chief
COLUMBUS - A member of the board of the State Teachers Retirement System has resigned, citing the lack of “civility and respect.”

Judith Dunn Fisher, a former chief financial officer for Huntington Bancshares, told Gov. Bob Taft in a letter dated June 30 that she was driven to resign by “the inability and/or unwillingness of the STRS board (and its leadership) to ensure that civility and respect are ... provided for all Board discussion and deliberation.”

Taft appointed the suburban Columbus resident as an investment expert to the board on Sept. 28, 2004, for a four-year term.

Fisher’s letter said one board member was “solely responsible for my resignation — verbally castigating, impugning and maligning Board actions, behaving ... in an emotionally abusive manner on repeated occasions.”

The letter does not identify the person, and Fisher repeatedly refused to do so in an interview.

But Constance K. Ramser, a teacher at Jackson Local Schools and new chair of the STRS board, said Fisher is referring to Dennis Leone, a former superintendent who represents retirees. Three years ago, Leone was largely responsible for disclosing problems about how the board and system were operating. He was elected last year.

“Dr. Leone tends to be a bit explosive at times,” Ramser said. “As a result, there have been instances within the board room and personal instances many of us have experienced, where he’s personally crossed the line. If he was a student in my classroom, he would have probably been suspended. Basic civility you learn as a child. At some point, an adult has to act like an adult.”

“That’s unbelievable,” Leone said.

Leone called Fisher’s letter “a hit-and-run” attack. She’s not being driven off. If she can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t be on the board.”

Leone said he intends to write Taft about what qualities are needed in Fisher’s replacement.

Leone defended his behavior, saying he is looking out for the interests of STRS members by improving pension-fund policies. He said the board often has rejected his efforts. He acknowledged, however, that STRS, which has a $65.1 billion portfolio and 439,000 members, operates better today than three years ago.

Mark L. Rickel, Taft’s press secretary, said the letter was the first time the governor had heard about Fisher’s problems. Taft will choose a replacement as soon as possible, Rickel said.

Board member John Lazares, who often backs Leone’s efforts, called Fisher’s and Ramser’s description “ridiculous.”

“All the members ought to thank God for having Dennis on the board. He’s trying to protect and defend the active and retired members.”

Lazares said Leone “is emotional, and (Fisher) doesn’t like him.” He drew a difference between her experience with private boards and Leone’s experience with public boards. “We’re dealing with public dollars,” he said.

Though Fisher criticized leadership of the board for not controlling Leone’s behavior, Ramser said efforts were made to do so but that they were unsuccessful. “How much parenting (of Leone) should I do as an adult?” she said.

Leone said he was “disappointed in Connie” for her description of his behavior and that no one has asked him to change.

Reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

Perhaps some Board members just need a little break in their routine.

Molly to Gov. Taft: Why Tom Hall should be considered for appointment to STRS Board

From Molly Janczyk, July 12, 2006
Governor: Please consider Tom Hall for appointment to the STRS Board.
I have written a separate letter speaking to this issue. I will send his vitae as well.
Subject: Tom Hall: Why I am running for the STRS Board (also attached)
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2006
Thomas E. Hall Professor of Economics Miami University, Oxford
Why I am running for the STRS Board
I am a candidate for the STRS Board because I believe I have important skills to offer the membership. I hold a doctorate in economics, and have been a professor at Miami University since 1982. I have published a book on business cycles, and have developed considerable expertise successfully managing my own portfolio of stock market assets. I am knowledgeable about how the economy operates, and the factors that impact values of stocks, bonds, and real estate – the assets that constitute the bulk of the STRS investment portfolio. I was truly outraged a few years ago when I learned that the value of STRS’s investments had dropped $12 billion. Then came the news about rampant spending by the STRS Board on trips, meals, entertainment, and art. I found myself asking the same questions I’m sure most members did: How could these things have happened? Is my pension secure? If elected, I will do the following:
1. Focus on holding down the costs of operating STRS. This means running STRS in a financially prudent manner, minimizing overhead, avoiding administrative bloat, and not allowing board members, or anyone else for that matter, to treat the investment portfolio as a pot they can dip into as they please.

2. Intelligently oversee the management of the investment portfolio. This includes ensuring that STRS investments are safe and properly diversified.

3. Strictly adhere to Ohio Revised Code Section 3307.15 which states that STRS Board members must act solely on the behalf of STRS members and their beneficiaries.

4. Work to find avenues which will permit the continuance of health care and prescription drug benefits at current or possibly reduced cost to STRS retirees.

5. Communicate with and be responsive to all members including retirees.

6. Support and lobby for state legislation that benefits STRS members.

Molly urges the governor to appoint Tom Hall to STRS Board

Molly Janczyk to Gov. Taft, July 12, 2006
Governor Taft: An STRS member asked me for a name to present for a candidate for the investment appointee to STRS since Judith Fisher resigned (showing her true colors and lack of integrity and commitment in the first place in my opinion-has she never had to engage in spirited debate or had to lose before in her life?). Of course, I have no awareness of who walks in that world-Judith Fisher, I believe, lives in one of the priciest, most exclusive areas in the city. No wonder she has little awareness of how a simple retiree must live and how important every penny is to them when many must choose between RX's and food, bills or their very homes.
I feel a person who can relate to the prudent spending of our money should be appointed to the modest persons' board STRS. One who feels what we do when we see large extravagances spent with no documents seen by unfeeling board members who think it unnecessary to oversee our funds.
Only Leone and Lazares are steadfast in overseeing our money with prudent, time consuming efforts to study expenditures, look over budgets line by line, attempt to bring experts to Ohio for inservices for the 5 pension systems so as to spend as little as possible in training, secure candidates who have expertise so as not to have to spend inordinate amounts of time and money for training in areas they still do not understand after months, years on the board.
Lazares and Leone speak about documentation for spending. Why would it ever be ok to approve contracts without documentation, something Fisher thought was fine not wishing to 'micromanage.' Micromanage is WHY we sent Lazares and Leone to the STRS Board and yet many board members still do not get that. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it is more difficult. But, that is precisely why board members are there. Spending limits need be in place for the Exec. Direc. of any Board in order to assure proper outlay of monies. WHY would it ever be ok to give unlimited power to spend our money as was done by past boards and directors? THAT is why we changed the faces on the board and why we demand accountability.
Judith Fisher did not and would not understand that. She was insulting to those who disagreed with her and had no clue about our world. Many on the board still do not have a clue about our world. Meyers removes himself and stays in shadows. He seems little interested or willing to learn about us peons. His attitude seems to be if it is 'only' a certain amount, so what?
These are NOT overseers of STRS membership money. These are not duty bound board members according to ORC:3307.15. We want appointees who can understand our plight. What do the Judith Fishers care about $650 premiums for spouses. Not much. Let us have a person who recognizes what has happened at STRS and wishes positive change with expertise in market trends, investments, business cycles and is recognized for such. LET US CONSIDER TOM HALL, Miami Prof. for this appointment. Prof. Hall was the former candidate for the last election won by OEA candidates. Prof. Hall saw the problems and wanted to be part of the solution. He is knowledgeable in areas of investments and a member of STRS. What could be more perfect!

13,200 votes were cast for him, a virtual unknown, because of his impressive credentials.
I would respectfully appreciate an answer.
Molly Janczyk
[Contact information for Hall and Janczyk has been omitted for blog. KB]

Molly Janczyk on Judith Fisher's resignation

From Molly Janczyk, July 12, 2006
STRS MEMBERS: Please feel free to contact the Governor and House and Senate leaders regarding STRS Board appointees. The Governor appointed Judith Fisher who resigned today. We need a much better choice as a replacement.
Judith Fisher has not been a good board member in many retirees' minds. She has called oversight 'micromanaging' when limiting budget spending without board approval came up for vote. Judith suggested a million dollar limit exemplifying her lack of connection to STRS membership and slapping them in the face with no regard for her fiduciary duty of overseeing pension funds. She also voted against having documentation in front of board members prior to voting on vendors. She has blocked emails from STRS Membership. She never responds to membership.
I have found her arrogant and she is the one I wrote to legislators about when she told John Lazares that she viewed misdeeds according to severity. "John, if a friend of mine runs a red light, I don't stop being friends with them. Who did it hurt? she asked over and over' referring to the company which was cited and did business with STRS. This was being compared to Lazares saying STRS shouldn't do business with vendors with ethics violations. John said, "Judith, it's the law and if you don't understand that, I don't know what else to say to you.' Lazares' proposal has since been enacted into STRS governing by laws.
Judith needs be replaced by a compassionate public minded individual. She and Geoffrey Myers have no clue about public pension systems and only reflect corporate thinking with big money wasted. They are non responsive, non communicate and arrogant.
Please consider asking for Geoffrey Meyers resignation as well.
I am very disappointed in Conni Ramser's praise for Judith Fisher. Ramser told me personally that they made a mistake when voting without documentation and it would not happen again though she then went back on this and voted against the motion to have documentation prior to voting. Conni has had an opportunity to connect with membership and seemed interested before her recent reelection. Recently her decisions have not always shown the same thought. She did however, vote for a $100,000 limit for budgets without board approval vs. the MILLION dollar one, I think she originally agreed with Judith on.
Please consider carefully in light of all the ethics charges in this state and lack of oversight badly needed.
Fisher was wrong for this job. Meyers is too!

Are You Being Overcharged for Medical Care?

How to Fight Back

Bottom Line Personal, July 15, 2006

By Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin

Three-quarters of hospital bills have overcharges, and the average overcharge is about $1,000, according to People’s Medical Society, a nonprofit medical consumer rights organization. Doctors, too, are handing inflated bills to patients. Good news: It’s simple to fight back.

If your health insurance completely covers hospital and doctor visits, these steps might not be necessary, though making the extra effort to eliminate overcharges can help bring down medical costs for everyone. Also, be aware that your insurance coverage might not be as comprehensive as you thing – call your insurance carrier or review the exclusions section of your policy.


To avoid paying more than you should…

Negotiate. If you have no health insurance, ask your doctor for a discount. Only 13% of patients ever make this request, but when they do, the majority secure a lower price, according to a survey of 2,118 adults conducted by Harris Interactive.

Ask the doctor in person. Requests made by phone or to an office assistant rarely work.

Keep in mind that insurance companies typically pay doctors one-half to two-thirds of the billed amount. If you will be paying out-of-pocket, you can offer to pay somewhere in that range when negotiating a price.

Get blood tests done at a lab. When your doctor does a blood test, he/she charges you for the office visit … plus an added fee for drawing your blood … plus the amount a lab charges to run the test.

Ask the doctor to waive his fees, or go directly to a lab to have the test done and pay only for the test (ask the doctor to supply any necessary paperwork).

Look in your local yellow pages under “Laboratories – Clinical, Medical, Diagnostic” or “Laboratories – Testing” for labs in your area.

Don’t pay for the follow-up visit. When you see a doctor about a health problem, you often have to see him again a few weeks later to confirm that the treatment was successful. Chances are, your doctor will look you over for a few seconds during this follow-up, pronounce you well – then bill you another $50 to $100 for the second appointment. During your initial appointment, tell the doctor that you’re paying out-of-pocket and ask if he’ll waive or reduce the charge for the follow-up visit, assuming that it takes only a moment. Many doctors will agree to this, particularly for regular patients.

Confirm that tests are necessary. Doctors often order unnecessary medical tests out of fear that not conducting these tests might open the door for negligence lawsuits later. Unless your health insurance is picking up the entire bill, question whether recommended tests – including MRIs, CAT scans and X-rays – really are necessary. Ask what these tests will determine.


Here’s how to spot overbilling on hospital bills …

Ask for a daily itemized bill. When you check into the hospital, tell the staff member who takes down your insurance information that you want an itemized bill brought to your bed every day. Hospitals are required to provide this upon request.

When you receive these daily bills, review each listing (or ask a family member to do so for you). Were you billed for two doctor visits yesterday even though you saw a doctor only once? Were you billed for tests that you don’t recall getting? Are there vague entries, such as “miscellaneous costs” or “lab fees?” Are there listings you can’t understand? Tell the nurse you would like to speak with the hospital’s patient advocate, then ask the advocate to explain any charge that isn’t clear. You might be appalled by what you’re told.

Examples: Some hospitals have been known to call a box of tissues a $12 “mucus recovery system” and a bag of ice cubes a $30 “thermal therapy kit.”

Save the daily bills so you can reconcile them later with the final bill.

If the patient advocate won’t help remove the mistakes and reduce egregious overcharges from your bill, hire an independent medical billing advocate. He/she will examine your bill and fight to remove any overcharges, usually in exchange for a percentage – typically 35% – of the amount he saves you.

To find a medical billing advocate:

Contact Medical Billing Advocates of America (304-645-6389, … American Medical Bill Review (530-221-4759, … or Edward R. Waxman & Associates (877-679-7224,

Bypass the hospital pharmacy. Hospitals dramatically overcharge for drugs. A patient might be billed $5 to $10 for a pill that retails for 10 cents elsewhere.

If you are taking medications on an ongoing basis and are not fully covered by insurance, bring your drugs with you to the hospital.

When you consult with your doctor prior to entering the hospital, find out which drugs you’re likely to be given during your stay. Ask the doctor to write you prescriptions so that you can buy these drugs at your local pharmacy in advance and avoid the hospital markup. Even if your doctor won’t do this, you can bring any nonprescription pills you’re told you’ll need, such as vitamins.

If you must get drugs through the hospital pharmacy and your insurance isn’t footing the bill, ask your doctor to specify generics whenever possible. When you get your itemized daily bill, double-check that you weren’t charged for the brand-name drugs instead.

Watch for double billing. Hospitals often bill patients twice for certain things. If your bill lists sheets and pillows, ask the hospital’s patient advocate if these items are included in your daily room rate. If you’re billed for the scrubs, masks and gloves worn by surgical staff, find out if these were included in your bill for operating room time.

Also double-check the times on your operating room bill. Hospitals charge from $20 to $90 for every minute you’re in the operating room, so if the time you spent in surgery is padded even a little, it will add a lot to your bill. Your anesthesia records will say how long your operation really lasted.

Don’t pay for your last day. Hospital patients are charged the full day’s room rate for the day they check in – even if they arrive at 11:59 pm. In exchange, patients are not supposed to be charged for their last day, but hospitals often try to bill for the final day anyway. Sometimes these last-day room bills are simply removed when you complain, but there are hospitals that insist the last-day charge is legitimate for patients who aren’t discharged by a certain hour, often noon.

During your hospitalization, ask the hospital’s patient advocate whether you’ll be billed for your room on the final day of your stay. If the answer is, “Yes, if you’re not out by a certain hour,” ask your doctor on the next-to-the-last day of your stay to give you your final checkup and discharge the following morning, rather than waiting until the afternoon. If the doctor says this doesn’t fit his schedule, tell the patient advocate that you shouldn’t have to pay because the delay is the doctor’s fault.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The latest threat to public education in Ohio?

Last Updated: 1:23 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Activists infiltrating school boards

Just minutes after joining Butler County's Fairfield Board of Education in January, anti-school tax activist Arnie Engel already was clashing with fellow members.

About the same time over in Warren County, Jennifer Miller - a rookie Mason Board of Education member and self-described "Christian conservative" - also had a short honeymoon before the verbal battles began.

In Hamilton Township, new Little Miami school board member John Stern was the only "no" vote in February against putting a $62.5 million bond issue on the May ballot. His vote ignited a verbal firestorm from fellow board members and some jeering by residents.

And last week in Monroe, first-time school board member Mike Irwin read a statement at a crowded school board meeting describing Monroe Superintendent Arnol Elam as a "schoolyard bully." Irwin, a retired former mayor of a small Maryland city, claimed he was "verbally berated" in a recent executive session.

This week marks the six-month point for all four of these first-term school board "outsiders" - all of whom are part of an aggressive political movement that accuses public school systems of wasting money and overtaxing property owners. Some loudly proclaim their allegiance to the Hamilton County-based Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes and North COAST, its suburban branch.

The COAST philosophy: new taxes for public schools should be limited to no more than the increased costs of inflation

Their critics are fierce.

"I think they are people who are using the public face of an anti-tax platform to try to achieve their long-range goal, which is to dismantle public education in America," says Little Miami Board of Education Vice President Mary Beth Hamburg. "Getting COAST sympathizers elected to school boards is one strategy to achieve that and people who value education should be extremely careful who they vote for."

Yet their supporters are loyal and have voted in numbers strong enough to get them elected.

"I have a list of 16 board members in 14 districts that I consider our supporters," claims Engel, who built his reputation in Fairfield by battling school taxes. "But some of them do not want to come out of the closet."

The new board members vary in style and can differ in political philosophy once topics stray beyond school spending.

None of them care for the "anti-school tax activists" label opponents have hung on them - even though some have campaigned for years against school levies.

Some - like Irwin - are quiet about their views and have distanced themselves from COAST. But so far, COAST-friendly candidates have not gained majority control over any local school board. The activists hope that will change.

Some of the new board members openly talk about using their footholds to recruit more like-minded candidates. They say more and more voters are beginning to share their belief that school taxes are too high, that unionized teachers and other employees are overpaid, and that schools waste money.

Groups such as COAST have given Greater Cincinnati a statewide reputation as a hotbed for anti-tax activism, says Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association. "I don't think there has been the attempt to organize elsewhere in the state as we have seen in Southwest Ohio."

The rise of anti-tax activists on school boards reflects "the harsh realities of Ohio school finance," Ebright says.

Three Ohio Supreme Court rulings have found the state's method of funding public schools unconstitutional. Schools depend too heavily on local property taxes. So it isn't surprising that frustrations are reshaping local school boards.

"Schools before have not been under this sort of scrutiny," Ebright says.

Marianne Culbertson, 13-year-veteran of the Mason school board, frequently has sparred with Miller during public meetings.

"She is not constructive in her comments and does not offer constructive criticism," Culbertson says. "I am concerned about this trend of anti-tax board members and I think Jennifer Miller's agenda is a personal one."

Fairfield school parent Karin Duke says the same about Engel.

"He seems to have a personal agenda and it isn't about the kids. It's about Arnie Engel, who I think is using the school board as a political stepping stone to a higher office," she says.

But Fairfield resident Marc Conter voted for Engel. He says the thousands who elected him "support his efforts and those of the other people like him."

"I like the fact that he is watching over the school budget," Conter says. "Before Arnie, we had no watchdog over the district's finances."


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