Friday, June 14, 2013

STRS board to meet June 19-20, 2013

Details here: (under Updated Public Meeting Notice for June 19–20)

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Nick Treneff talks to the Dispatch about ethics rules.....but Dennis Leone tells The Rest Of The Story

From Dennis Leone, June 9, 2013

……….and here is one more forgotten tidbit from 10 years ago that Mike Nehf and the STRS Board would rather not acknowledge: Not only was the STRS Board forced to accept – against its wishes – strict pending restrictions on future meetings through needed reform legislation (SB 133), the new law also stated that the likes of Jack Chapman, Hazel Sidaway, and Eugene Norris could “never run” for the STRS Board again because of their wild and excessive spending on meetings.  What they did (Chapman spent $35,000 by himself one year) would make the current board member spending controversy involving SERS look mild.

Here is one more historical footnote that most do not know:  Before the new  spending restrictions for future STRS Board members were signed into law 10 years ago, sharp-eyed retiree Molly Janczyk figured out that using the words “never run” could be a problem in the future because the Big 3 Spenders (Chapman, Sidaway, Norris) could be APPOINTED to the board if a current board resigned before his/her term expire.   Just before the governor signed the legislation into law the language involving the Big 3 Spenders – thanks to Molly Janczyk – was changed from “never run for the board again” to say “never serve on the board again.”   And of course, Mike Nehf and the current STRS Board likely would prefer people to forget that board members Chapman, Sidaway, Norris, Joe Endry, Debbie Scott, and Michael Billirakis,  plus executive director Herb Dyer,  were convicted in court of Ohio Ethics Commission violations.  The abuse that occurred 10 years ago can happen in other areas in 2113.

Dennis Leone

From: John Curry, June 9, 2013

Subject: ...and by the way, Mr. Treneff, just who do you think caused those ” current ethics rules revamped about 10 years ago with the commission’s help “ to be written in the first place?

It was a guy by the name of Dennis Leone, wasn't it? And it was caused by your very own STRS board members globetrotting and causing the problem in the first place, wasn't it? You forgot to tell the good reporters that! John

However, Treneff said that while the teachers retirement system “respects the work of the Ohio Ethics Commission and has a demonstrated history of fully cooperating with the Ethics Commission,” current ethics rules revamped about 10 years ago with the commission’s help “are sufficient to protect the public interest.”

Some pension-fund board travel exempt from disclosure



Sunday June 9, 2013

Because of the dust-up over planned Hawaii trips by two state pension-fund board members, the Ohio Ethics Commission is offering to take a closer look at financial-disclosure forms filed by everyone on retirement system boards.

But those annual “disclosure” filings don’t live up to their name, leaving out tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel outlays to locations such as San Diego, New Orleans and Las Vegas — mainly because of a loophole created years ago by the General Assembly. Even the much-criticized Hawaii trips scheduled by two School Employee Retirement System board members were not legally required to be disclosed to the public on the forms.

That’s because lawmakers exempted from public disclosure travel expenses to events sponsored by an organization to which the political entity pays dues, such as when legislators attend gatherings of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Since SERS pays dues to nine organizations, board members’ disclosure statements legally did not include almost $42,000 out of their $68,000 in travel expenses for last year. Since last month’s Hawaii conference was hosted by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, of which SERS is a member, those expenses could have been withheld from the ethics filings even if the trips hadn’t been canceled after heavy pressure.

One SERS board member reported spending $3,300 last year, but did not have to include another $9,000 used to attend conferences in New York and San Diego, since they were hosted by member organizations. Another went to a $5,000 conference in San Francisco, but was able to report spending nothing on travel last year.

Members of the Public Employees Retirement Services board did not have to report nearly $11,000 in conference expenses last year because it is a member of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, which sponsored them. Two board members’ totals were each more than $6,000 lower on the financial disclosure form than on spreadsheets of their actual 2012 travel expenses provided to The Dispatch by the pension system.

Some of the pension systems, however, go beyond the letter of the law and share all their travel expenses publicly.

“Although board members are not required to disclose conference registration fees or travel expenses for conferences held by certain organizations, the State Teachers Retirement Board members have historically included conference registration fees and conference travel expenses on their financial disclosure statements,” said board spokesman Nick Treneff.

The same is true for the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund and the Highway Patrol Retirement System.

And while the more transparent systems disclose details — such as the 44 cents spent for breakfast by some patrol board members — one of the SERS board members who wanted to go to Hawaii merely listed a series of dollar amounts and no further information, which apparently complies with the law’s minimum requirements. The same dichotomy exists among statewide officials. For example, Auditor Dave Yost and Secretary of State Jon Husted detail their travel expenses, while Attorney General Mike DeWine and Gov. John Kasich list only the amounts.

The Ethics Commission’s involvement stemmed from a comment by a consultant who audited the SERS. Randy Miller, an auditor from Michigan-based Funston Advisory Services, said there is no evidence anyone reviewed the financial-disclosure filings.

"Was anyone really looking at them or not?” Miller said.

Ethics Commission Chairman Merom Brachman asked the commission’s executive director, Paul Nick, to offer the commission’s services to the Ohio Retirement Study Council, which oversees the state’s five pension systems.

The ethics commission receives disclosure statements that list in general terms financial, business and property interests as well as reimbursements for travel from about 11,000 public officials, Nick said. However, there is no legal requirement nor adequate staffing to delve into those filings, so it usually isn’t done unless “wrongdoing is suspected,” Brachman said.

The commission’s chief advisory attorney, Jennifer A. Hardin, noted that the pension funds themselves aren’t even required to receive a copy.

“Some have a high level of review, some have zero,” she said.

Nick said that ethics investigators can’t probe what isn’t required by law on the disclosure filings.

“We’re stuck with what’s there,” he said. “We can’t go beyond that.”

State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, chairman of the Ohio Retirement Study Council, said he hopes to introduce legislation in the summer to tighten travel oversight. He did not offer specifics, but said the bills would apply to all five systems.

“It’s going to be a continued part of discussion about what we do, what we fix,” Wachtmann said.

 Some pension fund leaders seem supportive of the extra scrutiny.

 “If the Ethics Commission feels it is necessary to examine these statements more closely, we will certainly cooperate and welcome this new examination,” said David Graham, spokesman for the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund.

However, Treneff said that while the teachers retirement system “respects the work of the Ohio Ethics Commission and has a demonstrated history of fully cooperating with the Ethics Commission,” current ethics rules revamped about 10 years ago with the commission’s help “are sufficient to protect the public interest.”

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