Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jim Kimmel: Letter to STRS Board

October 27, 2007
Some of the old issues on the STRS Board are still unresolved. This became apparent to me when I learned that Dr. Dennis Leone's recent motion was tabled. Dr. Leone's voice of reason was once again basically ignored by the majority of the board. He moved to restrict Executive Director Asbury from doing a number of things which should have been decided by the board BEFORE he took action. These restrictions are not some new idea. These restrictions are already listed in the STRS Board Policy Manual. By allowing Mr. Asbury or any future executive director to run roughshod over any STRS policy shows irresponsibility on the part of those who allow it. Here are some examples of such actions which should have been presented to the board for approval BEFORE they were implemented: There are probably many more…
1. Establishing employee compensation and fringe benefits unilaterally.
2. Granting private legal fees for certain STRS employees without formal board approval.
3. Allowing Damon to spend up to $100,000.00 without prior board approval. I never did find out if this is for one year, or if he can spend up to that amount on multiple occasions. Either way that is too much latitude. I believe Damon wanted a million dollars' worth of discretion and would most likely have received it if Leone and Lazares had not spoken up.
4. Then there is the matter of allowing former public service STRS employees to transfer their unused sick leave days to STRS in SPITE of the fact that they received payment for them from their previous employer. They will again be remunerated for those same unused sick leave days (if still unused) from STRS.
5. Regarding HB 151 (divestment), the board caved in. You were promised immunity if accused of abrogating your fiduciary responsibility in the process of divestment. DON'T COUNT ON IT! 151 is on shaky legal and economic ground. As long as you are on the board you ARE responsible. And I would ask why would you accept immunity from your fiduciary responsibility even in this one instance? What other board duties would you shirk if given the chance? If divestment were the right thing to do you would not need immunity.
The Executive Director works for the board which represents the retirees and those who will someday retire. Additionally, by allowing the executive director to make decisions that you either approve after the fact or not at all, you allow yourselves legal liability. You would not be the first board members indicted for something you could have avoided by using common sense and good judgment. So do not allow yourself to be the "fall guy" when someone else causes you to fail in your fiduciary and ethical responsibilities. Allowing such things has placed others in serious legal trouble.
I cannot understand why some board members allow such things as mentioned to happen. Dr. Leone and Mr. Lazares want to make positive changes. Yet many vote against them on the board. I can think of only two reasons: (1) you do not understand (which I doubt) or (2) you are obeying some other "party line" the identity of which I can only guess.
What can possibly turn you the wrong way on so many issues ? Only you can answer that. Just remember that the board policies are clear about the responsibility of the board and that of the executive director. He should present to the board all significant matters and get approval BEFORE acting on them.It seems like he does things in the shadows and then you seem to claim that wonderful excuse called "plausible deniability". In the long run, that never works (remember Watergate?).
A time comes when someone finds a flashlight and suddenly all the nasty critters run for cover. Please work with Leone and Lazares . Their leadership can make things better for retirees by following Ohio Law as it pertains to STRS. As a veteran teacher and school administrator, I know how far a school superintendent would get if he did half the things Damon does without his board approval. He would soon be looking for a new job! Please consider all this with an open mind and heart. We STILL need a new direction for STRS. Maybe a new director as well!!
One other very important point: The opponents of HB 315 argue that STRS is still not well managed and that the board has made bad decisions. Cooperation with Lazares and Leone can show a change in board attitude. It would be a real shame if the board's lack of backbone caused loss of 315 and subsequent financial and medical hardship for many retirees. I assume you care about such things……
Yours truly,
James O. Kimmel
STRS Retiree
Proud CORE Member.

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