Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tom Curtis to Mike Nehf: A time to reconsider

From Tom Curtis, December 21, 2008
Subject: 122108 Curtis To Nehf, A Time To Reconsider
Hello Mr. Nehf,
My name is Thomas Curtis. I am an STRS benefit recipient and stakeholder. I taught technology education for 26 years before leaving teaching on a disability retirement in 1998.
In June 2003, I attended my first STRS board meeting due to my concern about the rising cost of health care for my wife (a non-teaching spouse) and myself. From that day forward and to this day, I have supported the call for reform that Dr. Dennis Leone spelled out in his historic document of May 16th 2003. He presented that document to the board and executive director on that date, and they all smugly ignored it.
During the summer of 2003, I became politically involved with a group from my school district in Stark Co., along with Senator Kirk Schuring. We planned a rally for August 2003 to express our concerns about the mismanagement of the STRS. Roughly 600 people gathered in front of the state house on that hot August day and marched to the STRS building for the board meeting. Things have never been the same for the STRS since.
Being one of the initial organizers of CORE, I made presentations to the board nearly every month, calling for reform. Dr. Leone and CORE made enough noise throughout the state during 2003 to cause the active educators to elect the first non-OEA-backed active member to the board. John Lazares was seated in 2004, winning over the incumbent board chair and OEA-backed and heavily financed (by OEA) Eugene Norris. In 2005, CORE was successful in helping to get Dr. Leone elected to the board and to get SB 133 passed. It called for the restructuring of the STRS board and created some new guidelines for the election of board members. As a result, all of the OEA board "clones" were forced to leave, as was the executive director. In turn, each was prosecuted and convicted of their unlawful practices. Isn’t it amazing what a grass roots organization can accomplish when it gets fired up?
Since that time, the unions (OEA/OFT) have stepped up their political and financial support for their "clone" candidates and have had little trouble reestablishing themselves on the board. When Dr. Leone leaves the board in August 2009, the board majority will again consist of bought-and-paid-for union-backed members. Pay-to-play is alive and well, for a while anyway!
It became poignantly clear to me by early 2006 that the "new" board majority and the executive director showed little interest in bringing about any more of the reform the stakeholders were calling for. Did we make a difference? You bet we did. And guess who tried to take the credit for all of the reforms we caused to take place? I am sure you already know Dr. Asbury and the OEA claimed that as their own doing.
Starting in 2006, we had a whole new board, albeit one that was very inexperienced. Other than John Lazares and Dennis Leone, all of the elected members lacked any formal training in business and finance. I guess that is unimportant to the unions, who basically put them there. In my opinion, there is not one elected board member at present, with the exception of Dr. Leone, who would even be considered by any firm to make the kinds of decisions they are currently asked to make.
Consequently, I decided early in 2006 that I would no longer waste a whole day and considerable expense by driving to Columbus to attend the board meetings. We (CORE) were successful in bringing about the retirement of Herb Dyer, but his culture of mismanagement was far too ingrained in those who remained. Note: it is my understanding, from talking with the prosecutor, that Steve Mitchell may also be brought into court for his part once he retires. Politics have kept him out of court to date.
In my opinion, the mismanagement of the STRS should have been fully investigated by the State Inspector General, Thomas Charles. He was to have done so, beginning in July 2003; however, Gov. Taft bowed to the wishes of two corrupt, highly placed state officials of that time, both of whom held seats on the board, and line-item-vetoed the funds to bring the investigation about. What resulted was a three year cover-up, allowed by the ORSC. They went through the motions of calling for some oversight two years later, by letting a contract to an out-of-state agency (IFS) headed by a former state teachers retirement director. That agency produced a report that was totally useless, vastly outdated and hugely expensive to the stakeholders. Isn’t politics great?
Mr. Nehf, you probably were not aware of what had transpired at the STRS just a few years prior to your taking the director’s position. If you were made aware, depending on who "educated" you, I suspect you were not provided a totally accurate description of what transpired concerning the mismanagement of our funds and those stakeholders who disagreed with such.
All of that aside, a new day has come and you are the new director of the STRS. We are about to inaugurate our 44th U.S. president; an individual I consider to have a very healthy vision of what this country should be about. I sincerely hope and pray that he will be successful in bringing this country’s economy back to reality; one where Americans will once again be able to live within their means, and the gap between the rich and the poor is not enormous, as it is today.
The lavish lifestyle, misspending practices, and greed of the management and investment managers of various enterprises have brought this country and the world into a financial crisis, one that I fear will loom for a long time. The effects have not even begun to be realized.
CEOs and investment staffs are now beginning, though very grudgingly, to relinquish the out-of-line salaries, bonuses and benefits they themselves had perpetrated. This is a good time to reassess your position as our director. If you will kindly review Dr. Leone’s historic document of May 16th 2003, you will find what we, the stakeholders, desire a reasonable request for the downsizing of the STRS. This is what we expect from you as our director. This is what we desire from you.
No teacher has ever had the privilege of experiencing the kinds of outlandish benefits the STRS employee receives at present. Please do not forget that teachers are the primary contributors of the dedicated flow of income the STRS receives each year. You and your staff do not produce any product or service that has to compete for its income. You simply receive it each month from the treasurer of each school system throughout the state.
Yet, it appears that management feels it is worthy of so much more then we are. Why is that? You were hired and you agreed to manage our dedicated flow of income in the best interest of your stakeholders, but you do not do that. Management clearly does not follow ORC 3307.15 in this respect.
Please understand, Mr. Nehf, as things worsen financially, you will be held to a higher standard of accountability by the stakeholder than you have probably ever experienced at any time during your career. Saying you are opposed to the elimination of PBIs, wage freezes and other badly needed reforms will not be accepted by the stakeholder. I feel this is especially true, because the STRS stakeholder has already been alerted to the misspending of your predecessors and current staff. We will be ever vigilant, not because we desire to be, but because the personal greed of our money managers has forced us to be.
Please reconsider your views concerning the cutbacks you should be contemplating in the coming New Year. We expect better consideration and respect, concerning our views, from our administration in 2009.
I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas,
Thomas Curtis
STRS Stakeholder
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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