Friday, December 12, 2008

Molly Janczyk: STRS and Ethics

From Molly Janczyk, December 12, 2008
Subject: STRS & Ethics: My Opinion
I am gravely concerned and deeply disappointed in what I perceive as the continued loose ethical behavior at STRS. Dyer stated STRS money was his or theirs to do with what he wanted. He was forced to resign for such arrogant and defiant statements. Asbury had his own questionable ethics regarding various issues written about multiple times. But, STRS shareholders had high hopes for the new Exec. Director, Mike Nehf, who seemed aware and determined to make Ethics standards at STRS something that could be trusted.
Mike Nehf is said to have taken it upon himself to solely decide and gift the STRS staff with an additional day off: the Friday after Thanksgiving . This day is not a contractual day off and one would have to use their contracted vacation days to take it as vacation. But, Nehf felt the staff simply deserved to have this day without using contract days. A 'gift' from him to them.
Did Nehf pay for this gift? No, WE DID! It is STRS earnings on our contributions that once again gave STRS staff a perk not within the contract. Do we care if anyone else in the U.S. has done this? No. Perhaps, other systems give this day but are they at the expense of shareholders or contractual? Either way, who cares? It is OUR money and NOT Nehf's to spend as he wishes. The cost of this gift given by Nehf to the staff and paid for without our consent: $175,000.
Past attitudes would be to smirk and say: "We don't get it! It would not pay for health care anyway." We get that-obviously. Health care costs self insured STRS $1.5 Million per day. What THEY don't get is: If one can just simply decide to gift the staff with perks worth $175,000 for ONE DAY OFF, then it can just as easily gift needy retirees with $175,000 for meds, treatments, necessitites. STRS states this kind of thing keeps staff happy and they work so hard. Heard that before?
Well, I can tell you with assurance that 175 retirees earning less than they can survive on, would be VERY HAPPY to receive $1000 each! I have repeatedly asked for a charitable fund for needy retirees over and above the assistance program. Many, many retirees are having difficulty paying for groceries and meds and treatments and Dr. visits. They have cut meds, reduced or stopped meds and treatments and Dr. visits.
Mr. Nehf: How do you look them in the eye and tell them you gave our money to provide an extra non-contractual day off to make it nice for our employees? You email STRS rhetoric but it is becoming increasingly and uneasily apparent you share the arrogant and unfeeling lack of ethics your former Exec. Directors possessed.
Where exactly, in this time of crisis, do you think your staff will depart for to engage better employment? What staff, anyway, is not having to cut back and rethink bonus programs, benefits and extras of any kind during such a downturn? How on earth did you think this was OK-to give away $175,000 of your shareholder's money in a catastrophic financial crunch?
Where is OUR help to get through this? What have you done for US?
Educators are a modest group wanting only a secure retirement and health care. Giving away $175,000 here and there does add up and it JUST LOOKS BAD! Should I spend $1000 on something short term because it won't pay for the home I want anyway? If I keep doing that, I will never get there. It is only $6 Million, it is only $175,000, and so on. This is precisely what we experienced with Dyer and Asbury.
OEA diehards would say it is WE who draw attention to STRS behavior and thus hurt chances of passing HB315. I say WHY is STRS behaving in ways that need attention and THAT is what is hurting chances with HB315. THAT is why school boards say they mismanage money. IF STRS has money to do such things, how hard up are they? School boards are NOT listening. Slick Bill Leibensperger who was reimbursed $40,000+ for his expenses on top of a $150,000 salary and probably an educator salary as well, had the constant habit of smirking at us along with his equally slick wannabe's. They wanted us to help with HB315 -- which we unfailingly did. EVERY legislator possible was met with by CORE leaders. CORE solicited letters, emails, and calls on behalf of HB315. But, OEA has little use and leaves no doubt of its disdain for CORE when unwanted items are brought to shareholder attention.
QUESTION: WHERE IS OEA and OEA-R and ORTA when unethical behaviors are rumored or revealed at STRS? OEA did nothing in 2003 and they do nothing now expect to support STRS. ORTA and OEA should be holding STRS accountable and providing oversight on behalf of membership. Instead, they defended STRS even when undisputable evidence was provided. They fought those who blew the whistle on STRS and impugned their reputations hoping something would stick. Changes were forced due to media attention. Now, evidence again, that STRS is making its own decisions without contracts to support them.
I will tell you that all those organizations will breathe a sigh of relief on 9/01/2009 when Dennis Leone is no longer a STRS Board member. NO ONE will be there any longer to provide oversight on behalf of membership-OEA , OEA-r and ORTA call it micromanaging. No one will care nor find out about spending $175,000 of membership money for an extra day off cause the Exec. Direc. wants to gift staff rather than have them use their days properly. No one will mind the bonus figures or travel expenses. They will be blips in the budget all bunched together with no one to question what the figure includes. No one will delve into proper handling of sick and personal days or even care for that matter. Most will be lulled into complacency once again and simply want to be told all is ok.
Most retirees and actives only want to live their lives and not be bothered. And the status quo at STRS will once again reign supreme with no or little questioning. If any do bother, they will be pacified by STRS rhetoric, STRS legal advice and STRS 'experts' only speaking STRS bias. Board members will then feel they have done their fiduciary duty cause they asked a question. They will never go into the rank and file or delve into records or see red flags and go to the source as Leone does. STRS and OEA, OEA-R and ORTA have outweighted us. They are big and strong and have power and money to do as they wish. 9/01/09 will come soon enough for them and all will be well again for them on Broad St.
Ethics? Legal? Often two different areas and not necessarily having the same outcome. STRS walks the line most of the time to be legal. Who cares about ethics here and there? HB315? Sit in lawmakers seats and on school boards and look at figures. Watch STRS behavior and look at OPERS who operates with prudence and long term planning that is not reliant on in house or out of house or numbers of employees.

Lawmakers would be impressed if STRS took the lead by increasing the years for retirement to enforce the decrease in unfunded liability with working longer and withdrawing later, applying a percent of pension for health care premiums to help those with less and let those with more pay more, making 20 yrs. early retirement and only offering health care access to those with 15-19 years. All 6 or more years out from retiring. Lawmakers are looking at increased years for retirement already. If STRS took this lead and enforced some of these changes, lawmakers may look at HB315 more favorably since it was willing to make changes as well and not just ask for change. Yes, it is educator contribution increasing but more than that has to occur for legislators to approve HB315 as well as swaying school boards.

Many lawmakers look at the 35% rule and feel educators will have enough to pay their own way with pensions far superior to Soc. Sec. benefits. They fail to see those of us who had no opportunity to achieve the 35 yr rule retiring before it became available. Yes, we benefitted for the bill but with the cost of inflation and simple stagnant COLAS are now losing money every year whereas those who are seeking the 35 year rule continue to gain because of increasing salaries annually.

STRS needs to reconfigure the 35 yr. rule in light of its current retirees declining in benefits with inflation, overwhelming health care costs and stagnant COLAS while actives work towards an ever increasing salary range under which to retire.

Most of those areas can all be done without legislation and simply because STRS wants to truly distribute its assets fairly for all vs. just the active educators. Lawmakers would see STRS is working hard to realign for the betterment of total membership as well as to conserve and decrease its unfunded liability.

I continue to be dismayed by the retirement system who does not see ALL its faces or listen to their voices of true need. A system is only as strong as the weakest among it. Religion, morality, ethics- all speak to helping your brothers and sisters, your neighbors and friends. That, would , I think, include ALL our fellow educators-those who came before and grew the organizations and paved the way for today's educators. Current retirees fight for future retirees having paid an untenable cost trying to preserve health care for us and for them. Where are the active educators who fight for US????

Where is Mike Nehf leading a new more ethical STRS looking at every expense and asking himself: How would I address this issue with my membership? How would I answer needy retirees not just with standard rhetoric but with compassionate and earnest understanding of their crisis and fighting for improvement of their benefits - not simply my staff? Compromises can be made and better standards for all-membership foremost according to ORC:3307.15. Make it evident how you fight for your retirees, Mike! Who will question YOU when Leone is gone. Shouldn't YOU be questioning yourself? That is who we thought we hired.
**You will not be questioned by OEA, OEA-R or ORTA with any real in depth efforts. They will be happy with whatever STRS and OEA tells them.
There is no shortage of greed at STRS and no shortage of rationalization to support it by the Board. When one only listens to one side, one does not grow. When STRS only invites 'experts' who are going to strengthen their argument, nothing is gained. All sides should be heard, weighed and researched in depth.
Molly Janczyk
STRS Retiree

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