Saturday, March 28, 2009

Must-see PBS special, Tues., Mar. 31, 9:00 p.m.: "Sick in America"

Dr. Alice Faryna to Dave Parshall, March 28, 2009
Subject: Activism for the week
Here are 2 items worthy of your attention:
1. PBS is releasing its followup to Sick Around the World with a more focused view on the U.S. It will air "Sick in America" on Tuesday, March 31, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET (WOSU in the Columbus area). Please consider inviting some friends and neighbors to view it with you. Columbus SPAN will schedule a showing later this spring. Let me know of any venues we can use.
2. At a recent conference call, PNHP president Dr. Fein announced that Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a Senate version of Single Payer (S. 703). Please email Senators Brown and Voinovich urging them to co-sponsor this bill which would be clearly less costly than the compromise currently being debated in Congress. Also contact your representatives to co-sponsor HR 676.
Grass roots noise does make a difference. Dr. Fein and John Conyers got a last minute invitation to the White House summit on health care after loud agitation from folks like us.
Alice Faryna

Tom Curtis to Troy Spear: Sobering Pension Information

From Tom Curtis, March 13, 2009
Subj: 031309 Curtis To Spear, Re: Sobering Pension Information
Hello Troy,
Thank you for responding and asking what can be done. I applaud you for doing so and only wish more teachers, both active and retired, would do the same.
In my opinion, the only thing we the stakeholders can do is elect people to the board that have some background in business and finance, and hope they are objective and ask lots of questions.
Jim Stoll is the only active candidate that I know of that has that kind of background.
This background is most essential for anyone asked to make the decisions an OSTRS board member is asked to make each and every month. Anything less promotes the lack of oversight and regulation needed by every financial institution in this country.
The OSTRS board determines what path our administrators will take. If they have little to no background in business and finance, how can they possibly make educated decisions? Obviously, they cannot, so they simply vote "yes" to whatever the OSTRS administrators' recommend. Why bother to even have a board, if that is what they are going to do?
Throughout my career I belonged to, supported and voted for every candidate that the OEA promoted to be on the OSTRS board. That has proven to be a huge mistake, as my HC costs for my non-teaching spouse and I account for over 1/3rd of my pension. That is $12-15 thousand dollars per year and has been so, since 2004 when the spousal subsidy was removed only by the OSTRS. No other Ohio pension system has done this to date.
Those board members, due to their near total lack of a background in business and finance, were coerced by unscrupulous OSTRS administrators into following whatever they desired. Those administrators thought of themselves as corporate leaders and thus spent our money on lavishness for themselves and attempted to eliminate HC coverage.
Please keep in mind, that not one OSTRS employee pays one dime into the OSTRS. All of there retirement funds go into the OPERS, so what investment do they truly have in our retirement system? Absolutely none. It is just a job to them.
The OEA always emphasized when contract talks came around, that though we were not being paid as well as we had expected, we could rest assured that we had the "Cadillac" plan of pension and HC to cover our retirement years. NOT!
Sadly, that was only partially true, because the unions never made HC coverage a number one priority. Thus, a dedicated flow of income was never established for the health care stabilization fund at the OSTRS. Today that fund is in a death spiral and will end soon.
The OSTRS states they pay out about 1.3 million dollars per day for HC for retirees. The HCSF currently has less then 2 billion dollars left. When the HCSF goes bankrupt, those that follow in retirement will have to fend for themselves. Isn't that something you wanted to hear?
The two unions in this state, the OEA/OFT have placed little emphasis on this crucial point, of electing well- qualified people to the board. They simply throw large sums of active teachers' money at promoting and electing people that come from their executive ranks. Obviously, they think they will make good board members. That has not proven to be to the stakeholders' benefit. Let me explain further.
One would think the unions would spend teachers' money to place people on the board that are qualified, with at least a substantial background and knowledge in business and finance. But, they have not. It seems to me that they are not only lacking in their knowledge of business and finance, but also good common sense, for they fail to even ask legitimate questions about the OSTRS administration recommendations.
To date, (from my own personal experience by attending monthly board meetings from 2003-2006) the union-elected board members are a sure "yes" vote on anything the STRS administration places before them.
The collective background in business and finance of the elected board members currently on the board is shamefully near non-existent. So ask yourself, would these people be the ones you want looking out for your retirement concerns?
The unions certainly have a place in the school systems and have obtained many of the contractual language that exists today, but they do not and have not served that same function on the OSTRS board.
The OEA has known since the early 90s that HC costs would be climbing from that point forward. Most anyone would think that finding a dedicated flow of income for the HC Stabilization Fund should have been the board's number one priority. Sadly it was not. What we were promised all of our careers concerning HC is nearly gone.
Troy, I have said more then you probably desired to hear, but you can tell I am very passionate about the future of our retirement system. Given the huge amounts of misspending and mismanagement that have taken place at the OSTRS in recent history, it is imperative that we elect board members that have an adequate background in business and finance, or as I said earlier, what is the sense in having a board at all? Simply electing those that the unions have used your money to elect has not gotten the job done.
Tom Curtis
From Troy Spear, March 13, 2009
Subject: Re: Sobering Pension Information
Tom, I appreciate people like yourself that are watchdogs to OSTRS, so thanks. But what can I do about this? I forward this information on to our independent association president and vice president. Short of a mob and lynching the accusers (which is how this really should be handled, civilized society, or not we need to show current and future generations what happens to crooks and thieves) what are our options? Thanks again.
Troy Spear
WoodLINKS USA/Cabinetry, AutoCAD & CAM
Instructor Theodore Roosevelt High School
From Tom Curtis, March 12, 2009
Subject: Sobering Pension Information
Please take the time to read the article below.
CORE has been trying to make the OSTRS stakeholder aware of many of these issues for years, to little avail I hate to say. Apathy amongst Ohio educators is huge!
All of you that simply sit back and believe all of the propaganda that the OSTRS puts out in their Newsletter and on their website, and those of you who are staunch supporters of the OEA, might just find that you have not been getting the rest of the story.
The OSTRS gave all employees a 6-15% pay increase in fiscal year
2009. The board voted to do that at a time when the OSTRS had only lost $8 billion dollars. At this point in time, the OSTRS has lost approximately $32 billion. If that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.
Tom Curtis
From Ryan Holderman:
Dear One & All:
The story below is very sobering. Pay particular attention to the portions in blue. While this is a story about public pensions funds (STRS likes to waver between being a public or private fund), those of us who attend the monthly STRS Board meetings recognize the attitudes and methods described below.
Later, Ryan Holderman
Hidden Pension Fiasco May Foment Another $1 Trillion Bailout
March 3, 2009
The Chicago Transit Authority retirement plan had a $1.5 billion hole in its stash of assets in 2007. At the height of a four-year bull market, it didn't have enough cash on hand to pay its retirees through 2013, meaning it was underfunded to the tune of 62 percent.
The CTA, which manages the second-largest public transit system in the US, had to hope for a huge contribution from the Illinois state legislature. That wasn't going to happen.
Then the authority found an answer.
"We've identified the problem and a solution," said CTA Chairman Carole Brown on April 16, 2007. The agency decided to raise money from a bond sale.
A year later, it asked Illinois Auditor General William Holland to research its plan. The state hired an actuary, did a study and, on July 17, concluded that the sale of bonds would most likely result in a loss of taxpayers' money.
Thirteen days after that, the CTA ignored the warning and issued $1.9 billion in bonds. Before the year ended, the pension fund was paying out more to bondholders than it was earning on its new influx of money. Instead of closing its funding gap, the CTA was falling further behind.
Public pension funds across the US are hiding the size of a crisis that's been looming for years. Retirement plans play accounting games with numbers, giving the illusion that the funds are healthy.
The paper alchemy gives governors and legislators the easy choice to contribute too little or nothing to the funds, year after year.
30 Percent Shortfall
The misleading numbers posted by retirement fund administrators help mask this reality: Public pensions in the US had total liabilities of $2.9 trillion as of Dec. 16, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Their total assets are about 30 percent less than that, at $2 trillion.
With stock market losses this year, public pensions in the US are now underfunded by more than $1 trillion.
That lack of funds explains why dozens of retirement plans in the US have issued more than $50 billion in pension obligation bonds during the past 25 years - more than half of them since 1997 - public records show.
The quick fix for pension funds becomes a future albatross for taxpayers.
In the CTA deal, the fund borrowed $1.9 billion by promising to pay bondholders a 6.8 percent return. The proceeds of the bond sale, held in a money market fund, earned 2 percent - 70 percent less than what the fund was paying for the loan.
The public gets nothing from pension bonds - other than a chance to at least temporarily avoid paying for higher pension fund contributions. Pension bonds portend the possibility of steep tax increases.
"Very Risky"
By law, states must guarantee public pension fund debts.
"What appears to be a riskless strategy is actually very risky," says David Zion, director of accounting research for New York-based Credit Suisse Holdings USA Inc. "If the returns on the pension bond-financed assets don't exceed the cost of servicing the debt, the taxpayers bear the brunt."
With the recession that started in December
2007, cities and states are running huge deficits, which they're closing by cutting services and firing employees. The economic downturn gives state legislatures another reason to cut back on funding pensions.
Government retirement plans nationwide don't calculate their shortfalls based on market values of their assets and liabilities, says Orin Kramer, chairman of the New Jersey State Investment Council, which oversees that state's pension fund.
Paper Over Losses
Fund accountants resort to a grab bag of tricks to get by. They set unrealistically high expected rates of return to reduce governments' annual contributions. And they use smoothing techniques to paper over investment reverses so they make losing years look like winners.
Accountants do that by averaging gains and losses, usually over a five-year period - sometimes for as long as 15 years of investment returns.
That means actual results of any one year aren't used to calculate how much a state legislature contributes, which can delay governments catching up with losses for more than a decade.
This ruse can pass the buck to future taxpayers, who will pay for the retirement benefits of today's government workers.
"There are accounting gimmicks in pension land which create economic fictions and which disguise the severity of the real problem," Kramer says. "Unfortunately, pension board members don't have much of an appetite for disclosing inconvenient truths."
Calpers' Numbers
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the seventh-largest public pension fund in the US, reports each year that its expected rate of return is 8 percent. Public records show the fund has had an average return of 2.6 percent during the past 10 years.
The nation's largest public pension fund, California Public Employees' Retirement System, has been reporting an expected rate of return of 7.75 percent for the past eight years, and 8 percent before that, according to Calpers spokesman Clark McKinley.
Its annual return during the decade from Dec.
31, 1998, to Dec. 31, 2008, has been 3.32 percent, and last year, when markets tanked, it lost 27 percent.
"It's Pitiful"
"It's pitiful, isn't it?" says Frederick "Shad" Rowe, a member of the Texas Pension Review Board, which monitors state and local government pension funds. "My experience has been that pension funds misfire from every direction. They overstate expected returns and understate future costs. The combination is debilitating over time."
Rowe, 62, is chairman of Greenbrier Partners, a private investment firm he founded in Dallas 24 years ago.
Texas teacher retirement fund spokesman Howard Goldman and Calpers's McKinley declined to comment on Rowe's views.
Most public pension funds, like the one in Chicago, were already treading water before the 2008 stock market crash. Now they're closer to sinking.
State government pension fund assets in the US fell 30 percent in the 14 months ended on Dec. 16, losing $900 billion, according to the Center for Retirement Research.
Fund managers don't have many options for increasing assets. They need adequate funding from state legislatures, which in many cases they don't get. Beyond that, they're at the mercy of financial markets.
Easy Money
Typically, public pension funds put 60 percent of their assets in stocks, 30 percent in fixed income, 5 percent in real estate and the rest in riskier investments such as hedge funds and commodities.
That mix requires the nonbond assets to earn double-digit gains in order to reach expected rates of return.
The easiest way for retirement plans to increase cash is to issue pension obligation bonds. For the funds, that means borrowing money at no risk - because the bonds are backed by taxpayers.
A government retirement plan can't go bankrupt, even if it's insolvent; state treasuries must put up the money if a fund runs dry.
What for retirement plans in the US has been a simple solution - issuing $50 billion in pension bonds - has become a growing headache for the public.
"Where Did the Money Go?"
"When the actuary is finished with his magic, where did the money go?" asks Jeremy Gold, who was one of the first actuaries to work for a Wall Street firm when he joined Morgan Stanley in 1985.
The answer, he says, is that future taxpayers may cover what fund administrators had hoped to get from investment returns.
For investors, these debt sales are similar to ordinary municipal bonds. Because both forms of debt are ultimately backed by taxpayers, credit rating firms give them high grades for safety. The difference for bondholders in states is that pension bonds aren't tax-exempt.
General obligation bonds are typically used to pay for construction of schools, hospitals and other public works; pension bonds just fund needy retirement plans. For that reason, Congress decided in 1986 that pension bond income should be subject to federal income taxes.
Government officials say they issue pension bonds believing that their fund managers can earn more money from investing the proceeds than what they have to spend in interest payments to bondholders.
"Risk Is Minimal"
The government of Puerto Rico borrowed $2.9 billion through pension bonds in 2008, betting that it could reap annual returns of 8.5 percent investing the money, while paying its bondholders 6.5 percent.
"The risk is minimal," says Jorge Irizarry, who was chairman of the Employees Retirement System of Puerto Rico from August 2007 through December 2008.
A political appointee, he departed after his party lost the governorship in November. Before working for Puerto Rico, Irizarry was an executive on the island at PaineWebber Group Inc., now UBS Puerto Rico, from 1986 to 1998.
So far, Puerto Rico's wager isn't paying off. The 8.5 percent expected rate of return has instead been a loss of more than $200 million, according to a Dec. 12 presentation by fund administrators to legislators.
"Turned Against Us"
"It was an arbitrage transaction, and the market has turned against us," says Carlos Garcia, former president of Banco Santander Puerto Rico, who replaced Irizarry as chairman of the pension fund in January. "I don't know if the benefits intended will be realized."
Actuaries consistently permit public pension funds to report artificially high expected rates of return - most often 8 percent and as much as 8.75 percent. That's more than the 6.9 percent billionaire investor Warren Buffett sets for his Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s pension fund.
"Public pension promises are huge and, in many cases, funding is woefully inadequate," Buffett wrote in his 2008 letter to shareholders. "Because the fuse on this time bomb is long, politicians flinch from inflicting tax pain, given that the problems will only become apparent long after these officials have departed."
Determining how much expected rates of return should be isn't complicated, says Rowe, who oversees Texas pension funds.
"Why do they choose high expected rates of return?" he says. "The only reason is to sneak through promising a lot to pensioners - which means worrying about it later. It's madness."
The Rules
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board, a nonprofit group that provides guidance for accountants, has rules for financial reporting by public pension funds.
A study commissioned by the US Senate Finance Committee, released on July 10, 2008, found that GASB guidelines could be meaningless.
"GASB operates independently and has no authority to enforce the use of its standards," the report said. Each state sets its own rules. The GASB rules don't mention pension bonds.
Illinois sold the largest pension bond issue ever, $10 billion in 2003, to shore up its state pension funds. In 2007, former Governor Rod Blagojevich proposed an even larger, $16 billion pension bond issue, as the state's unfunded pension liability exceeded $40 billion.
The legislature impeached Blagojevich in January after he allegedly sought bribes in return for filling President Barack Obama's vacant US Senate seat.
Ignoring Advice
When the Chicago Transit Authority decided to issue debt in 2008, it did its own calculations.
The CTA concluded it could borrow $1.9 billion, paying an interest rate of 6 percent to bondholders, and invest the proceeds to receive its expected rate of return of 8.75 percent. Such an annual return would add $52 million a year to bolster the fund.
The CTA chose to ignore not only Illinois's auditor general but also its own actuarial firm, Detroit-based Gabriel Roeder Smith & Co. The company had determined there was just a 30 percent chance of earning 8.75 percent.
"We executed the best transaction we could, given the legislative and political restraints," says CTA Chairman Brown, who is also co-head of municipal finance at Chicago-based Mesirow Financial Inc.
Credit Crunch
Since the bond sale, the authority has held the money as cash, earning 2 percent. And, with the credit crunch forcing municipal bond interest rates up to attract buyers, the CTA wasn't able to sell bonds with a 6 percent return.
A team of underwriters, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley, sold the CTA bonds in August 2008, at a yield of 6.8 percent, so the fund had to pay bondholders more than it had expected.
"There is negative arbitrage," Brown says. "It's better than having dumped the money into the equity market."
The one group that benefits from the pension bond sales is the CTA's retirement plan members. The authority is responsible for contributing more than twice as much to the fund as its employees. Thus the retirees are virtually certain to enjoy pension contribution savings from the pension bonds, the auditor general's report says.
Puerto Rico Mistakes
Neither workers nor the government are thrilled with the public pension system in Puerto Rico. As of
2005, the Caribbean island's government pension, with 278,000 participants, had assets that totaled just 19 percent of its long-term liabilities. That made it less funded than any state retirement fund in the US, public records show.
Puerto Rico's pension system is a model for common mistakes made by public funds across the US
Puerto Rico, a US commonwealth with a population of 4 million, has underfunded its main public pension fund since 1951 to save cash.
The island, whose capital building in Old San Juan is as close to the turquoise ocean waves as are the tourists taking photos on the edge of the beach, is far from being a financial paradise.
The legislature has repeatedly ignored annual suggested contributions calculated by its own actuaries, according to the Employees Retirement System's records.
Boosting Benefits
Puerto Rico's legislature raised pension benefits without funding the increased expense 30 years ago. Edmund Garza, the retirement system's administrator from 1992 to
1996, says pensions were boosted from 45 percent of average salary to 75 percent after 30 years of employee service.
"They didn't prepare a detailed actuarial analysis to see the financial impact of this decision, but definitely it was huge," Garza, 47, says.
The government skipped nearly $2 billion in contributions urged by its actuaries from 2000 to '05, according to fund records. The pension system continued a course toward insolvency as it paid out more in benefits than it took in.
By 2005, the Employees Retirement System had $12.3 billion of pension obligations with just $2.3 billion of assets. Puerto Rico itself has a BBB- credit rating, one notch above junk, from Standard & Poor's.
"We are very near bankruptcy," says economist Jose Villamil, speaking of the commonwealth. He is founder of Estudios Tecnicos Inc., a San Juan-based economics consulting firm. "The budget is out of control; the treasury is in sad shape."
"Continue to Deteriorate"
In 2007, the actuary for the Puerto Rico fund, Hector Gaitan of Buck Consultants LLC, recommended that the legislature make an annual contribution of $564 million.
"The financial status of the System will continue to deteriorate," Gaitan said in a Feb. 12, 2007, letter to the pension board that urged a boost in commonwealth contributions.
The legislature ignored Gaitan's warning. It chose to put $398 million into the pension fund. Just months after Gaitan suggested bigger government contributions to the retirement system, the pension board dismissed Gaitan and his firm.
"Those comments may have gotten us in trouble," says Gaitan, seated at his desk in a small cramped office in a San Juan business park landscaped with palm trees. "We were terminated shortly thereafter."
Irizarry, who chaired the fund's board until Dec. 31, declined to say why the board dismissed Gaitan.
Outdated Mortality Tables
Gaitan says the retirement system's underfunding may actually be an additional $1 billion or more than the fund reports, because the board relies on outdated mortality tables based on 1960s statistics to compute its future obligations. The shorter life spans in those outdated tables reduce the apparent size of the fund's liabilities.
The legislature has taken one step to improve pension funding - on the backs of employees hired after Dec. 31,
1999. New employees are denied fixed annual pensions. They must self- fund their retirement accounts.
The legislature diverts 9.275 percent of salary pension contributions for new workers to help scrape together the money needed to provide pensions for pre-2000 employees. By not making pension payments to employees hired after 1999, the pension fund will cut future liabilities.
The states of Alaska and Michigan, like Puerto Rico, have eliminated traditional public pension funds for new employees in the past 12 years.
Ana Reyes, an attorney in Puerto Rico, decided to take a job with the city of Caguas in 2008 so she could lock into a government pension.
"My Insurance"
"I wanted to have a good life when I get old," Reyes, 33, says. "That was my insurance."
Reyes, who lives in the island's Central Mountain Range 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of San Juan, says she didn't know that new employees get no retirement payments funded by the government.
"If I'd known this, I might have made a different career decision," says Reyes, who is the mother of a 2- year-old girl. "When I started here, they didn't explain that."
Even states that have had fully funded pensions - such as New Jersey in the 1990s - now have retirement plans with fewer assets than future liabilities and aren't moving to plug the gaps.
Jon Corzine
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a former co- chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, has proposed allowing government pension funds to put off half their pension contributions because of the state's growing deficit during the recession.
Corzine's suggestion follows a recent New Jersey pension track record of mistakes. When the state's pensions were healthy in the 1990s, the state legislature eliminated nearly all of its annual pension contributions for almost a decade, while adding $4.6 billion of benefits.
New Jersey sold $2.75 billion of pension bonds in July 1997. Then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman said at the time that the bonds would save taxpayers $47 billion and make the system fully funded.
"You'd be crazy not to have done this," Whitman said in a Bloomberg News interview in June 1997. "It's not a gimmick. This is an ongoing benefit to taxpayers."
Whitman's prediction hasn't held up. While the state pays pension bondholders a fixed 7.64 percent interest rate, the fund has earned 4.8 percent annualized since the bond sale, according to Tom Bell, spokesman for the New Jersey Treasury Department.
"Outrageous Gimmick"
New Jersey's pension bonds haven't saved taxpayers $47 billion. To date, the state has lost more than $500 million on those bonds, according to state records.
"Governor Whitman came up with this outrageous gimmick in order to give people tax cuts," says Kramer, chairman of the board that oversees New Jersey state pension funds.
As the global economic crisis deepens, public pension funds will lose more money. The solution shouldn't be more accounting tricks, Kramer says.
"Virtually every pension system has suffered losses in excess of 20 percent since they created the last set of artificial numbers," he says.
The best step forward would be for states to negotiate benefits down, increase pension contributions and reduce the expected rate of return, Texas pension oversight board member Rowe says.
Public pension funds have to stop pushing the costs of retirement benefits for current workers into the future, actuary Gold says.
"You're putting a bigger burden on your children," he says. "It amounts to a transfer from tomorrow's taxpayers to today's employees."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Prelude to a barbeque...Mr. Helmsley -- The CEO of UnitedHealth (Ingenix parent company) was not able to attend the first one so...#2's this Thursday!

From John Curry, March 28, 2009
I checked the C-Span schedule but was unable to find the TV schedule for this hearing. If one of you happens to find it, please drop me a line ( so that all who wish to view this hearing (if it is televised) will be able to watch. I know - some will call this grandstanding and a lot of people give Congress hell on a regular basis but, this IS government in action. Then again, I wonder if those same people ever watch Congressional hearings to view government in action. I think that this time 'round there will be some hardball questions asked ..... this won't be the day for verbal niceties....and rightly so! You have experienced a billing for an out-of-network doctor visit, haven't you? Was your bill based upon the "real" usual, customary and reasonable rate or...were you "lowballed?"



Chairman Rockefeller's Opening Remarks on Deceptive Health Insurance Hearing

Sen. Jay Rockefeller
Good Morning. Today’s hearing is the first of two hearings we are holding to look at a deceptive payment practice that the health insurance industry has gotten away with for the last decade, maybe even longer. The victims of this deceptive practice were probably most of the people sitting in this hearing room today, along with the more than 100 million Americans who pay for health insurance coverage that allows them to go outside of their provider network for medical care. Having the ability to get health care services outside of their network is an important option for American consumers, and it’s an option they pay for – in the form of higher premiums, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance payments. We were scheduled to hear today from Dr. Mary Jerome, a resident of Yonkers, New York, who has been fighting ovarian cancer since 2006. Dr. Jerome was not feeling well enough to coming down to Washington today to testify, but she was kind enough to send us her testimony. I ask unanimous consent to make her testimony part of the hearing record.
According to her testimony, Dr. Jerome received her health care coverage through a Point of Service plan, which encouraged her to get care within a provider network, but also allowed her to see out-of-network providers if necessary. Here’s what she says in her testimony: “I had always been confident that paying for the out-of-network option provided peace of mind with respect to the financial burdens associated with catastrophic medical costs.” After her cancer diagnosis, Dr. Jerome and her in-network primary care physician decided she needed to be treated by a health care provider that was outside of her network, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Jerome knew she was going to have to pay some portion of these costs out of her own pocket, but she also assumed in good faith that the treatment was going to be covered by her insurance. What we are going to learn today is that American consumers like Dr. Jerome – people who have been paying higher premiums for the choice to see out-of-network doctors - have not been getting what they paid for. We are going to hear testimony suggesting that the health insurance industry has been systematically lowballing American consumers. They have been promising to pay a certain share of consumers’ medical bills, but then they have been rigging health charge data to avoid paying their fair share. The result is that billions of dollars in health care costs have been unfairly shifted to Dr. Jerome and millions of other American consumers like her. Here’s how it works: the insurance companies generally promise to reimburse out-of-network medical services at what they refer to in the industry as the “usual, customary, and reasonable” rate. Well, the problem is that it’s been the insurance industry who’s been deciding what “usual, customary, and reasonable” means. Consumers haven’t had any input, doctors and other health care providers haven’t had any input. Only the insurance companies have been getting to decide what’s reasonable. That’s like letting the fox define “usual, customary and reasonable” in the henhouse. The good news is that thanks to a series of lawsuits and a year-long investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office, the insurance companies that operate in New York – including, most importantly, UnitedHealth Group and its medical information subsidiary, Ingenix - have been forced to change the way they do business. Our goal for today is to get an update on how the reforms proposed in New York are being implemented, and to understand how the deceptive practices uncovered in New York have been harming consumers in the other 49 states. I am looking forward to this testimony, especially at a time when we are once again taking a good, hard look at our country’s health care system. I would like to finally note that missing from our hearing today is one group of stakeholders who played an indispensable role in creating and perpetuating this unfair reimbursement system, but who will also play an essential role in changing it – the insurance industry. On March 9, 2009, I invited the CEOs of UnitedHealth Group and Ingenix to testify at this hearing today so we could hear their side of the story. Because UnitedHealth told us that their CEO, Mr. Stephen Hemsley, was not available to testify today, we agreed to hold a second hearing next week. At 10 AM next Tuesday, March 31, 2009, we will be holding a hearing during which we hope to gain a better understanding of the insurers’ perspective.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Your STRS is working hard 40 hours per week for you...well, not yet!

From John Curry, March 27, 2009
Below is a scanned page from the Feb. 20, 2009 STRS board meeting minutes as compiled and distributed by the STRS. Currently, the standard workweek for an STRS Associate in 37 1/2 hours. You might want to read the highlighted part of the minutes to see who voted against the motion to extend the STRS workweek to 40 hours. I'll give you a hint...two of the "no" votes came from OEA endorsed "active teacher" members
Click image to enlarge.
The Misinformation Gazette
April 1, 2009
Columbus, Ohio
April 1, 2009
In a stunning revelation today, The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio announced the results of their membership survey. According to the release from STRS, 109% of those polled indicated satisfaction with all of STRS's various departments; this is up from 106% in the 2008 survey.
Further results showed 83% of responders believed STRS Board members were anointed by God, 44% believed the Board members were divine, and 63% were satisfied the Board members were omniscient.
In other results, 204% of the members were either sure or very sure the earth was flat and the landings on the moon were simply a staged government cover-up of a failed program.
In related questions, it was established 88% of retirees didn't want the 13th check restored, 15% wanted the check but only if STRS assets were over $433 billion, and 24% thought the check was a gratuitous sin of greed and wanted any 13th check donated to a charity designated by the Board members. STRS added some results don't add up to exactly 100% because of rounding and the results had a probability of plus or minus one ten-thousandth of a percent. It was indicated the results were calculated in a similar manner to the PBI bonuses for the investment counselors. Satisfaction with the STRS Health Care Stabilization Fund was also high. 66% of responders wanted to pay more, suggesting an increase of $734 per month would be wonderful, while 32% thought that increase was insufficient and wanted nothing less than to pay at least an additional $1,000 per month, and a final 49% demanded STRS take their houses and sell them on the open market to stabilize the fund. STRS had no comment on whether such action was under consideration.
In the category of communication, 55% of the responders wanted to read more about STRS Board members, their families, their preferences for entertainment such as favorite movies, TV shows, and sports indulged in. 87% were very sure that was very important news, and thought most of the Newsletter should focus on that information.
See page two for a sample of the questions asked. According to STRS, retired members in the Memory Gardens location provided the most answers and had the highest percentage of returned polls.

~ Page 2 ~
The following are some of the questions posed by the STRS poll to its retired members.

1. What is your overall impression of STRS as a whole?
...(a) Very, very favorable
...(b) Very, very, very favorable
...(c) Very, very, very, VERY favorable
...(d) Simply wonderful in every way
2. Which of these do you hold in the highest esteem?
...(a) STRS management
...(b) Bernie Madoff
...(c) AIG executives
...(d) Charles Manson
3. What do you think of the PBI bonus program for investment counselors?
...(a) Fantastic
...(b) The bonuses should be bigger and not related to mere stock performance
...(c) A brilliant system of compensation that should at least be doubled
4. If STRS goes completely bankrupt should investment counselors still get their full bonuses?
...(a) Yes
...(b) Yes
...(c) Yes
...(d) Definitely
5. How do you view the STRS Health Care program?
...(a) Too cheap, cost needs to be increased at least double
...(b) Coverage is much too extensive; should be limited to flu shots and appendectomies
...(c) Far too many prescription drugs are available; should be limited to aspirin and placebos
...(d) Simply wonderful in every way
6. Do you believe STRS is adequately staffed?
...(a) Absolutely not. We need many more investment counselors
...(b) Absolutely not. We need more managers and bosses
...(c) Absolutely not. We need more secretaries and parking lot guards
...(d) Absolutely not. We need more relatives of Board members on the payroll
7. Would you like to see the 13th check returned?
...(a) What's that?
...(b) No, and we should donate our 12th check to STRS Board members
...(c) Only for retirees who are 100 years old or older and then only on the basis of one dollar per year old
...(d) No. Thirteen is an unlucky number.
8. What should be done with STRS Board members who dissent from majority votes?
...(a) They should be executed immediately
...(b) They should be executed immediately
...(c) They should be executed immediately
...(d) They should be executed immediately
9. What do you think of the STRS headquarters building?
...(a) There's not enough expensive art and sculpture there; buy more
...(b) The building is too small; build extensions richly decorated to demonstrate our fiscal integrity
...(c) Free chlld care should be provided to all STRS employees and all relatives up to fourth cousins
...(d) We need many more armed guards in the parking area
10. Do you believe STRS ought to make it easier for non-union Board candidates to run for a Board position?
...(a) The OEA opposes this idea
...(b) The OFT opposes this idea
...(c) ORTA opposes this idea
...(d) Everyone opposes this idea

OEA the cart before the horse?

From John Curry, March 27, 2009
Mr. Mahoney,
As a "spokesperson" for the Ohio Educaton Association, maybe you can "speak" to the thousands of OEA affiliated educators in this state and tell them why the median salary of an OEA administrative secretary is almost $3,000 more than the average salary of an Ohio teacher who is now required to hold a Masters Degree to teach in Ohio's schools. I will be awaiting your answer.
John Curry
A former 30 year OEA dues-paying member now, a retired educator

Click image to enlarge.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Ralph Lloyd to STRS Board re: salaries and bonuses

From Ralph Lloyd, March 27, 2009
Newsletter from STRS Ohio for March
I am glad to see that the Board decided to resolve the PBI issue but a real solution should be no PBIs. Most of the people who contribute money to the retirement fund (teachers and administrators) do not get any bonuses for graduating students who become doctors, nurses, teachers themselves and other positions that require good grades in academic classes.
I am not happy to see the people who you call associates, receiving salaries that range from $60,500 to $270,000 with an average of $144,687.71, when the people who paid in the money they get paid out of, didn't get that kind of money.
My daughter is a middle school teacher in History, for 17 years, with a Masters-plus degree and only receives $48,650/year. When I taught Algebra and Geometry in High School I had a Masters degree in Mathematics and received $32,000 in my last three years.
I see no reason to pay these "associates" these HIGH wages. Surely there is an abundance of people with the same qualifications who would be willing to work for less, just because it is a job. These are the ones who worked for the failed banks and other financial institutions.
Ralph L Lloyd

Thursday, March 26, 2009

From Jim McGreevy: New Tax Tables Pose Potential Problem for Retirees

From Jim McGreevy, March 26, 2009
Subject: Additional STRS News

No sooner had I sent out my report on the March STRS Board meeting than two new items of interest came to light that I need to pass on to you.
- Jim

New Tax Tables Pose Potential Problem for Retirees
As part of the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), otherwise known as the “economic stimulus plan,” the IRS recalculated the income tax withholding charts for all employers and, as it turns out, all pension systems. The National Education Association (NEA) monitors pension issues and emailed the following:
The Internal Revenue Service has issued new tax withholding tables to reflect the Making Work Pay credit on earned income that was contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While pension benefits are not considered earned income and NOT subject to the Making Work Pay credit, IRS nevertheless instructed the payers of retirement benefits to use the new federal withholding tables. Unfortunately, this likely will result in under-withholding on pension income, and retirees, most of whom are on a fixed income, may find themselves unexpectedly owing taxes at the end of the year.
The Making Work Pay Credit called for by the Act applies to earned income and does not apply to retirement income. Most retirees instead receive an Economic Recovery Payment, which offsets the Making Work Pay credit for those eligible for both. Accordingly, logic would dictate that pension payers should simply continue withholding taxes from retirement benefits without regard to the credit since it does not apply to such income. Despite raising this issue with officials at the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, the Internal Revenue Service issued Publication 15-T this week with the following statement in the introduction: "For the calculation of income tax withholding on pensions, the new withholding tables also apply."
Issues Raised
If the IRS does not modify its position on this matter, benefit payers, acting on the new IRS directive, will begin withholding using tax tables that are known to be inappropriate for most retirees. While pension payers have indicated they will do everything possible to notify retirees of the reason for the change in the net amount of their benefit payment and the potential for under-withholding, the only way benefit recipients can change the withholding amounts is to proactively instruct their pension systems to increase the amount of their withholding, which is ripe for confusion and not easily calculated. Furthermore, at the close of 2010, they will have to readjust their withholding to reflect the fact that the tables for 2011 will no longer incorporate the making work pay credit.
Thus, to avoid confusion and possible back taxes being owed by retirees, it is believed that the better solution would be for IRS to allow the use of the old tables for income that is not eligible for the Making Work Pay Credit.
Congress and the Administration ought to strongly encourage the Internal Revenue Service to reconsider their position on this matter and allow pension benefit payers not to use the new federal withholding tables and instead use the old federal withholding tables. Using the old federal withholding would likely eliminate the potential that retirees on a fixed income will unexpectedly come up short next tax season.
NEA Action
NEA is actively involved with AFSCME, the National Council on Teacher Retirement, National Association of State Retirement Administrators, and AARP urging the IRS to use the old federal withholding tables. We are presently working with AFSCME on a letter to send to the Obama administration urging the IRS to use the old withholding tables. In addition, NEA and its coalition allies are actively lobbying Congress and the Administration to take action averting potential problems with the "Make Work Pay Credit" and retiree pension recipients. Our coalition partners ought to be meeting soon to discuss how best to communicate this issue to our retiree members. We will likely engage with other retiree organizations and the respective state pension systems that are charged with administering retiree federal withholdings on a communications strategy.
Thanks so much.
Alfred Campos
Federal Lobbyist
National Education Association
1201 16th Street, NW
Suite 510
Washington, DC 20036
To follow up on this information I contacted Laura Ecklar at STRS and received the following email in reply:
One of the key provisions of the stimulus package is the new "Making Work Pay" tax credit, which provides a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and $800 for working families for 2009 and 2010. This tax credit will be calculated at a rate of 6.2% of earned income, and would phase out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income in excess of $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing jointly). Taxpayers can receive this benefit through a reduction in the amount of income tax that is withheld from their paychecks, or through claiming the credit on their tax returns.
Pension plan distributions are not considered to be "earned income" for purposes of qualifying for this new credit. However, the Department of the Treasury issued new tax withholding tables to reflect the Making Work Pay credit and other changes resulting from the stimulus package and told pension plans, like STRS Ohio, to use the new tables.
As a result, the benefit payments to STRS Ohio members in April 2009 will reflect the new withholding tables. Since pension income is not subject to the new credit, such withholding could increase the likelihood that these individuals will owe taxes and possibly penalties at the end of the year. On the April 2009 check memos to our benefit recipients who have federal withholding, we will be informing them of the changes in the tax withholding tables, and how to change their withholding if they want to do that. We are also advising them to consult a professional tax advisor or more information, as STRS Ohio cannot provide advice.
As you can see from Laura’s response, you can expect to hear from STRS in the near future about this matter. Neither I nor STRS can provide you with advice on how to handle this issue. I recommend that you consult a financial advisor or tax preparer in the near future to see how your tax liability for 2008 will be affected so that you can be ready to take appropriate action in a timely fashion.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Minutes of the March 19, 2009 C.O.R.E. Meeting

March 25, 2009

Twenty-five Concerned Ohio Retired Educator (CORE) members were in attendance at the March 19th meeting in the Sublet Room on the second floor of the STRS Building in Columbus. At noon President Dave Parshall opened the monthly meeting by asking for acceptance of the February minutes. Mary Ellen Angeletti moved that they be accepted; Kathie Bracy seconded the motion.

Cards were circulated for members to sign for Donna Thorp and Ruby Fisher, who are both recovering from surgeries. Due to Ruby’s surgery, Treasurer Herman Fisher was unable to attend the meeting. However, he did send word via President Dave that our account is in the black.

There were no committee reports, but President Parshall reminded everyone that membership is still encouraged. In fact, currently CORE has over 1700 e-mail addresses. It was stressed that those e-mail addresses are very important.)

The new business part of the meeting revolved around the upcoming STRS election. CORE is endorsing Jim Stoll, active teacher, and Bob Stein and Jim McGreevy, retirees. A CORE flyer highlighting the three CORE-endorsed candidates will be sent out as soon as Jim McGreevy’s photo is added to the flyer. Once the flyers are completed and available, members are encouraged to run more off and to distribute them to teachers, retired and active.

Dave read the letter CORE received from candidate Jim McGreevy: What follows is the body of that letter:

“I would like to extend my thanks to the membership of CORE for their endorsement of my candidacy for the position on the STRS Board representing retired members. Over the past several years I have worked hard to educate myself on the issues that are important to our members, and if elected I will continue to work diligently to represent those members to the best of my ability as a fiduciary under ORC 3307.15.

CORE’s endorsement of me represents an expansive “big tent” approach to the issues confronting all of us at STRS. Frankly, I see a lot of very tough issues ahead that will require some difficult solutions. Please be assured that if I am entrusted with this position I will always be open to your advice and the counsel of your leadership. It is probably unrealistic to believe that we will always agree on every detail, but I have faith that all of the stakeholders, working together at STRS, can achieve our goal of providing financial security to our members.”

Following the explanation of the flyers, a discussion of health care ensued. It was commented upon that even though Medicare Advantage programs were cheap up front, the administrative costs are up. (There is a profit from running it.) Most members seemed to agree that it would be hard to pass even a revised H.B. 315 in the current economic climate. It was generally agreed that a long term “fix” is needed. We need to get the message out about health care and our pension. We must support each other. A national healthcare solution my be our only hope. Start to get involved. See the letter writing suggestion below. Dave Parshall will be attending a Single Payer grassroots meeting soon and will report back.

The topic of the meeting then turned to our pension fund…and the use of the word “safe” as opposed to “guaranteed.” In an effort to answer this, President Dave read a letter from a CORE lawyer, who had tried to address the matter for us. He directed members to Chapter 3307 of the Ohio Revised Code. The legal expert stated, “The sections on contributions are found starting at Section 3307.26.Benefits begin at Section 3307.50. The regulations that do detail policy are generally found at Ohio Administrative Code Section 3307:1-3-01. There are also a lot of sections to read.”

The lawyer continued, “You should be able to find the codes on line. I believe that Ohio Legislature maintains a site with the Revised code. This will keep you busy for a while…”

Plenty of discussion followed the reading of the letter. AIG, local pension systems, Warren Buffett, the top eight corporations being in fiscal trouble, single-payer health care possibilities, and the power of grass roots’ efforts were all roundly discussed. One suggestion that came out of the group’s conversation was that members need to be writing letters. To this end Alice Faryna will e-mail a model letter so that members will have a guide, if they need one. It was also suggested that concise, legible, hand-written letters were the most effective. Legislators, the governor, and newspapers should hear from us In fact, in order to help us get the word out, there is a link to editors of any papers on Bob Stein’s site.

The meeting closed at 1:30 after a reminder that people need to be attending the STRS Board Meetings. We need to have a presence so that we have an impact. For those who can’t attend a meeting, call and ask STRS to send a CD of that month’s meeting!

Respectfully submitted,

Marie M. Fetters

CORE Secretary

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

RH Jones: STRS should get our money back

From RH Jones, March 24, 2009
Subject: Fw: Let's hear it for CalPERS & CalSTRS! Will STRS join in?
John & Dennis,
As I remember, during Dyer's last months in the STRS directorship he put out a notice to hire a new expensive lawyer to serve on the OH STRS staff. I think the lawyer, in fact, was hired; therefore OH STRS should be able to also be in the forefront of the fight to get our money back from all the stocks, bonds, and whatever past investments from all the companies that have shown to have been using false sales rhetoric for their own illegal gain.
Life is getting desperate with us retirees. WE can no longer afford any more cuts. These are cuts in healthcare/Rx, COLA ( without compounding), or any other cuts. We have already been cut "to the bone".
We certainly have been fighting for years to avoid this downturn in our STRS funding. WE have begged and pleaded for a Board at STRS to listen to us only to be held in contempt. Repeat, and repeat, and it still fails to change the outdated "thinking". Nevertheless, I, for one will keep trying. We hope many,many, others will join us until a proper retirement is possible for all past and present educators. The future is bright as we are a band of brothers/sisters coming together to better our lot.
This is my thinking,
RHJones, retired STRS member
From John Curry, March 24, 2009
Subject: Let's hear it for CalPERS & CalSTRS! Will STRS join in?
Wall Street Journal
MARCH 24, 2009
US Pension Funds File To Lead Suit Against Bank of America
HONG KONG (Dow Jones)--Two of the largest state public pension funds in the U.S. have filed to lead a class action suit against Bank of America Corp. (BAC), alleging that the bank's management misstated or omitted important information about Merrill Lynch's financial condition.
California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS, and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) said they are protecting the financial security of over 2 million members. The two filed a joint motion in the District Court of the Southern District of New York Monday
"Despite these challenging economic times, we can't give corporations a pass on their obligations to shareholders," said Jack Ehnes, CalSTRS chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.
"By moving to be appointed lead plaintiffs, we're acting to supplement government enforcement of securities laws at a critical time for our nation's economy. We've taken this step to hold the board and its management responsible to their owners," he continued.
A Bank of America spokeswoman in Singapore declined to comment Tuesday.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, acquired Merrill Lynch at the end of 2008 after shareholders approved the deal. Since then, there's been widespread outrage that former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive John Thain doled out $4 billion in year-end bonuses on the eve of the acquisition.
"Shareowners did not have complete or accurate information prior to approving the merger, and the failure of Bank of America to provide it sent the stock price down dramatically," CalPERS Board President Rob Feckner said in a statement.
Bank of America's stock price has fallen by more than 40% since the beginning of the year, closing at US$7.80 on Monday.
The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed a tax legislation that would impose a 90% surtax on bonuses granted to employees who earn more than $250,000 at companies that have received at least $5 billion from the government financial rescue program, also known as TARP. The bonus tax, if passed as is, would be retroactive to December 31, 2008, leaving the Merrill bonuses out of the scope of the law. Merrill typically paid out year-end bonuses in January, but paid them before the end of the year prior to the acquisition by Bank of America.
CalPERS has a reputation for shareholder activism. In recent years, the US$173.9 billion fund has expressed opinions on executive, and stock options and nomination of board directors at companies such as United Health Group Inc. (UNH), HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC) and Dollar Tree Stores Inc. (DLTR).
"CalPERS is going to play a natural leadership role in the resolution of the financial crisis," Anne Simpson, Calpers' new head of corporate governance, told Dow Jones Newswires in February. "If more funds had the level of commitment CalPERS has to the rights and responsibilities of owners, we'd have far better levels of disclosure," she added.
(Jessica Hodgson contributed to this story.)
-By Ellen Sheng, Dow Jones Newswires; 852-2832-2336;

.....just ask Mr. Mahoney!

Click image to enlarge.

Tom Curtis to Governor Strickland re: Public records requests

From Tom Curtis, March 24, 2009
Subject: 032409 Curtis To Strickland, Freedom Of Information
The Honorable Ted Strickland, Governor of Ohio
State Capitol
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
March 24, 2009
Dear Governor Strickland,
My name is Thomas Curtis. I am a 62-year-old retired technology teacher and a beneficiary of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio. Born and raised in Stark County, I taught there for nearly all my teaching career. I have also been an advocate for reform of the OSTRS since 2003.
I'm sure you find it very disheartening to make the many budget cuts you have been forced to make during your tenure as Governor thus far, and especially to realize you may need to make many more in the coming year.
As you well know, the loss of accountability by those who run many of our major financial institutions and other organizations has been devastating to our economy, yet few are being held accountable for their wrongdoings.
For the past month, I have asked the executive director of the STRS for some budgetary information, i.e. the number of full & part-time employees for the past 18 years, month by month. I have also carbon copied your representative, Ms. Regina Burch. She has not responded either. Mr. Nehf supplied me with half of what I requested, the full-time numbers, but have refused to supply the other half, the part-time numbers.
Because of that refusal, I have also written the Attorney General's office and reported the failure of the STRS to produce all of the information I requested. Mr. Moormann of the AG's office responded that they have no authority to require the STRS to supply the information I requested.
Governor, my reason for writing you is to ask why we the people have no one as an advocate for us when public records requests are refused?
If there is to be a viable retirement system for future retirees, budget reductions and a revision of current spending policies must occur NOW. The STRS management staff that has allowed for these unreasonably high operational costs should instead be making drastic cuts in expenses, as thousands of STRS retirees are being forced to do.
Thank you for your consideration. I do hope you will personally support my request, as I feel I speak for many STRS retirees.
Thomas Curtis
STRS retiree and stakeholder

Tom Curtis and the AG's Office re: Public records

From Robert Moormann, March 23, 2009
Subject: RE: 032009 Curtis, Re Moormann, Public Records Question
Mr. Curtis,
I do understand your frustration with the inability of certain government offices to assist with you records request. Unfortunately, the Attorney General was not given the power to investigate or file complaints on behalf of citizens who felt that Ohio's open government laws had been violated. However, legislation was introduced in the 127th General Assembly that would create the Office of Public Access Counselor. This legislation would allow citizens such as yourself to file complaints with this office, and would allow the office to investigate such complaints. A summary of this legislation is attached, and if desired, contact your local representative to voice your support of such a measure.
Again, I am sorry that the Attorney General's Office cannot help you further with your request. I encourage you to keep an open dialogue with OSTRS (which you are doing per your most recent email dated 3/22) to hopefully recover the records needed. Good luck.
Robert Charles Moormann
Assistant Attorney General, Constitutional Offices
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray
(614) 728-2271
Facsimile: (866) 347-9217
30 E. Broad St., 16th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
From Tom Curtis, March 20, 2009
Subject: 032009 Curtis, Re Moormann, Public Records Question
Hello Mr. Moormann,
Thank you for your very timely responses. I find it discomfiting to find that your office does not support the sunshine laws for individuals. Why should a citizen need to obtain an attorney to request information that should be freely made available to the stakeholders of that organization. This type of nonsense is part of the reason the case loads of the courts are always so clogged up. After all, the OSTRS employees work for us, we do not work for them, yet they seem to think otherwise. Do you agree?
All I continually hear from government offices I have written over the past 6 years concerning the OSTRS is that they are sorry they cannot help. What is governments' function, if it is not to serve the people? The people, as your are surely aware, are very feed-up with these kinds of responses. All we get is the run around. This is going to end and we may see a revolution in this country because of such.
Lawyers seem to always be able to sight laws that justify why they cannot do something about a situation. Why don't you start improving the laws on the books so that they better serve the people? This country is over 200 years old and yet I never read about lawyers improving and refining the laws to benefit all concerned. More and more laws continue to be established that simply clog the system worse.
My interest in the records I have requested is to find out when and why the OSTRS has so many employees, when in fact, the OPERS has twice as many stakeholders and less employees. Why does the STRS need so many employees to take care of half the stakeholders.
Mr. Nehf made a presentation to the board in February showing that the number of full-time employees has been reduced. He made absolutely no mention of part-time employees. That maybe the case, but the records showing the number of part-time employees may show that those full-time employees were simply replaced by part-time employees.
Further, I do not believe for one minute that the OSTRS does not maintain a record of part-time employees, so the reason given to me by Mr. Nehf for not supplying the information I requested does not seem rational. Does it to you? It would appear that he simply does not desire for me to see those numbers. He has offered no alternative number of years of that information.
If the Attorney Generals' office does not represent me, who does?
Respectfully, Thomas Curtis
From Robert Moormann, March 20, 2009
Subject: RE: Public Records Question
Mr. Curtis,
In accordance with the email sent yesterday, this email responds to your concerns about the withholding of records by OSTRS.
My understanding of the situation is that OSTRS has given you records of month-to-month counts for full-time employees. However, they have not provided a month-to-month count for part-time employees. OSTRS's justification for not producing those records is that the information requested is not maintained in a manner that is responsive to your request and that it would take specific programming to fulfill your request. The following guidance is specific to the situation I have just described, so if I have misstated any of the facts above, please let me know.
Beginning, there is a great discussion of a "proper request" in Ohio Sunshine Laws 2009 (the publication that I sent you yesterday) on pages 11-12. In essence, a requester of public records must identify the records he is seeking with reasonable clarity and must request a record that actually exists at the time of the request, not merely the information the requester seeks to obtain. Additionally, a public office is not required to created records in order to respond to a request for information. With these general principals being said, now we can turn to the analysis of the current situation. However, I must remind you again that the Attorney General's Office cannot give advice, cannot take complaints, and cannot force a pubic office to create or produce records.
In your current situation, the public office has stated that the information/records that you request for part time employees does not exist. If this is true, the law is fairly clear that public offices do not have to create records in order to satisfy a request. If this is the case, you do have other options to try to get the information about part-time employees that you seek. Negotiate with the public office (again) and try to refine your request to records that actually do exist about part-time employees. You can speak directly with the public office to try and identify records that may contain information about part-time employees, such as time-sheets or application materials.
If you attempt to refine your request and you still feel that the public office is improperly withholding records, you can choose to file an action in mandamus in an attempt to compel the office to release records responsive to your request. A detailed explanation of the filing of a mandamus suit is found on pages 49-52
Of Ohio Sunshine Laws 2009. Again, I have no idea, and cannot opine as such, as to whether OSTRS is acting improper in their response to your request.
I hope the preceding guidance will help you in your efforts to obtain the information/records that you seek. If you have any additional concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at the information listed below.
Robert Charles Moormann

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mr. Mahoney, about your memo to those OEA people.....

From Kathie Bracy, March 23, 2009
Subject: Mr. Mahoney, re: your letter to OEA leadership
Dear Mr. Mahoney,
I read with much interest your 3/20/09 memo to various OEA leaders, in which you promoted the candidacy of Lorain Education Association member Carol Correthers for the STRS Board over Cincinnati activist and non-union member Jim Stoll, who did not choose to participate in an OEA screening or seek OEA's approval or recommendation for the STRS Board position.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Correthers at last Friday's Board session and found her to be an intelligent and classy lady. To my knowledge, last week was the first time she's ever attended an STRS Board meeting. It would have been nice to hear from her in the Public Speaks portion of Thursday's meeting, but perhaps she was not in attendance that day.
What I would like to know is exactly what has she done for the STRS stakeholders to date? Mr. Stoll has been very proactive, on his own, exposing more of the outlandish spending at STRS, obtaining and making public the salaries, bonuses, and heretofore hidden RAISES the members of the investment department have received. He has been proactive in requesting (subsequently demanding) STRS provide public information (some of which he was able to obtain from the Ohio Department of Education in a matter of hours, not weeks).
Mr. Stoll was proactive in taking his case to the Ohio Supreme Court, at his own expense, to obtain information he is entitled to. He has called STRS repeatedly and has been in contact with Board members. He has also addressed the STRS Board twice in a row, driving to Columbus last week just long enough to speak to the Board and drive right back to Cincinnati to go back to work. He has also voiced his determination to see that every active teacher in the state becomes informed about what has really been going on at STRS, where THEIR money is concerned.
I'm sure the high-salaried staff of OEA doesn't share quite the same concern as most retirees and the active teachers who are aware of the current financial status of STRS. Many of us DO find the loss of many billions of dollars, seriously threatening our pension and health care fund stability, alarming and yes, frightening. I suspect there are many active teachers around the state who are unaware of the true depth of the picture, and this is what Mr. Stoll is trying to do: educate, inform and simply wake them up. He is passionate about this, and if you look at the history of this country, you'll see that those who have been passionate have also been the movers and shakers who get things done.
Unlike the active members of the STRS Board who have very close union ties, particularly to OEA, Mr. Stoll does not have such political involvement or obligations. From my observations, he is very much his own person and an independent thinker, something I haven't observed in the OEA-connected active members of the Board. On top of that, Mr. Stoll is very sharp, well versed and openly committed to Doing What is Right, a mantra I have yet to hear from the current actives on the Board. From my perspective, Jim Stoll appears to be by far the best active teacher candidate out there. He doesn't just talk about what he's going to do -- he's already doing it.
Now, what can you tell me about Ms. Correthers' involvement thus far with STRS? If she is a potential Board member, I'd like to know more about her in this particular regard. Has she ever said what she's going to do if elected? I haven't heard anything. Is she passionate about anything regarding STRS? I haven't seen it so far; maybe she's waiting to get her cues from her union. I look forward to hearing from you and to your filling me in with more information pertaining to her candidacy.
Kathie Bracy
STRS Retiree
OEA-R life member

Labels: , , , , ,

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company