Saturday, February 10, 2024

Toledo Blade on the continuing saga of Wade Steen's seat on the STRS Board

Toledo Blade

Published: February 10, 2024

Musical chairs on state teachers pension board continues
COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine named a new member to the State Teachers Retirement System board after his replacement for original seat holder Wade Steen suddenly resigned Friday. 
G. Brent Bishop submitted letters of resignation for both that seat and his seat on the University of Toledo Board of Trustees. 
His letters did not spell out the reasons for those resignations, but they came after a state appellate court magistrate recommended that Mr. Bishop be removed from the pension fund board and replaced with the man that he replaced, Mr. Steen.
The magistrate opined that the Republican governor did not have the authority to revoke Mr. Steen’s reappointment to the seat last year with more than a year left in his four-year term at the time. 
On Friday, the governor named consultant and former long-time legislative budget expert Brian M. Perera, of Upper Arlington, to what remains of the Steen/Bishop term, which ends on Sept. 27. 
All of this occurs amid a power struggle on the board. Mr. Steen had aligned himself with some retired teachers who have demanded reform of the board’s investment practices, challenging incentive bonuses paid to in-house investment staff, and objecting to long stretches without cost-of-living adjustments. 
Magistrate Thomas W. Scholl III of the 10th District Court of Appeals, who heard evidence in the suit brought by Mr. Steen, has recommended that the court order Mr. Steen restored to this old seat. He opined that Mr. DeWine could not remove him in mid-term and that there was no vacancy to which Mr. Bishop could have been appointed. There was a vacancy this time. 
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the resignation did not appear to be a reaction to the magistrate’s recommendation.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve on the STRS Board. Effective immediately, I am resigning from the STRS Board,” Mr. Bishop wrote in an email to the governor’s office on Friday. 
There was an almost identical email related to his UT trustee position.
The governor did not consider restoring Mr. Steen, a certified public accountant, to that seat.
“The governor’s concerns that led to his replacement still remain,” Mr. Tierney said. The governor had questioned Mr. Steen’s attendance record at board meetings.
Read the rest of the article here

Friday, February 09, 2024

Ohio Gov. DeWine makes a change to teachers pension board - again

Gov. Mike DeWine is making another change to the State Teachers Retirement System, even as a lawsuit over his last switch is making its way through the courts.
By Laura A. Bischoff, Columbus Dispatch
Feb. 9, 2024
On Friday, the governor appointed Brian Perera as the investment expert. Perera served as finance director for the Ohio Senate for decades before taking a lobbying job at Ohio State University. Currently, he is a senior policy advisor for ZHF Consulting in Columbus.
STRS Ohio is governed by an 11-member board that includes appointees and elected members. The board oversees $90 billion invested for 500,000 teachers and retirees.
Republican former Gov. John Kasich initially appointed Wade Steen to the board for a four-year term. DeWine reappointed him in 2020. But in May 2023, DeWine announced he was replacing Steen with G. Brent Bishop, who is now being replaced by Perera.
Bishop resigned Friday morning without disclosing his reasons. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve on the STRS Board," wrote Bishop, who also stepped off of the University of Toledo board of trustees.
Steen filed a lawsuit over being removed, contending the governor lacked the authority to make the switch. DeWine isn't a party to the lawsuit, but the case raises questions about a governor's powers.
This week, a magistrate's order , which isn't final or binding, said the governor lacked the power to swap out Steen for Bishop.
The term for the seat expires at the end of September. The court case challenging Bishop on the seat could drag on through the summer as each side challenges judicial decisions. Steen asked the court to expedite the case and adopt the magistrate's order.
Activists have been mounting a board takeover, electing board members who are more sympathetic to their complaints about transparency, senior leadership, staff bonuses, and the suspension of the cost-of-living allowances for retirees. Steen, who was seen as aligned with the activists, was replaced just as activists were on the verge of gaining a majority on the board. 
In addition to the changes to the board makeup, STRS put its executive director, Bill Neville , on administrative leave in November. An anonymous letter accused Neville of harassment and violent behavior, though his personnel record at STRS for the past 19 years contains no other complaints.
Statement from ORTA:
The lengths that Gov. DeWine and Lt. Gov. Husted are going to obstruct justice and disregard the recent court decision to reinstate Wade Steen to the teacher pension board are both arrogant and wrong. In order to maintain the failed status quo at STRS, DeWine and Husted have blatantly disregarded the court, the rule of law and the will of Ohio teachers. Their actions are malicious, illegal and desperate. DeWine and Husted are simply attempting to delay the inevitable: true reform at STRS. We are more confident than ever that the rule of law will prevail and ORTA will continue to fight for a pension that provides dignity for teachers. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Edward Siedle and a message for STRS Ohio: "As long as there is breath in me, I will pursue from STRS Ohio any documents related to this private citizen."

From Pension Warriors by Edward Siedle 

Remarkably, the highly secrective spy agency is more transparent than the $90 billion teacher pension. 
Edward Siedle
February 8, 2024
Days after my seventeenth birthday in 1971, I received a series of cryptic messages indicating my father, Robert Siedle and Nicholas Stroh, a freelance reporter and heir to the Stroh Brewery in Detroit, had suddenly disappeared in a remote region of Uganda, East Africa. The two men were investigating a brutal massacre of hundreds of soldiers by President Idi Amin. They were last seen badly beaten at a Ugandan Army barracks. 
The disappearance of the two Americans, which was reported in Newsweek magazine within days, alerted the world that the friendly dictator so many governments-including the United States- had supported was a monster. Amin's regime would ultimately be responsible for the torture and murder of almost half a million people.
Amin claimed my father and Stroh were either “spies for the Jews (Israel)” or CIA operatives. While the Ugandan government eventually acknowledged (as a result of diplomatic pressures) the two men had been killed by the Ugandan Army, who killed them, how, when and why has never been determined to this day. Their bodies were never found. 
Part 1: My Request for Documents From CIA/State Department Related to My Father 
Since my father was rumored to be involved with American intelligence, I filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents with both the CIA and State Department in the 1980s. I requested simply, “All documents related to Robert Siedle.” 
In response, thousands of previously classified CIA and U.S. Department of State documents related to my father were provided to me. 
In response to my FOIA request, thousands of previously classified CIA and U.S. Department of State documents related to my father were provided to me.
After reviewing these formerly “top secret” documents, I returned to Uganda in 1997 to conduct my own forensic investigation into my father’s death, assisted by the CIA, Department of State and Ugandan Army. I interviewed victims, witnesses, and prisoners on Death Row to complete a son's obligation to his murdered father. The story of my journey to investigate the murder of my father is told in my recently released bestseller,  Buried Beneath A Tree In Africa. 
Truth be known, the federal spy agency has regularly been challenged over the decades to re-examine its broad interpretation of its nondisclosure prerogatives under FOIA—to allow the public and the media to obtain information, as well as gain insight into how the agency conducts its business. If the public requests information from the CIA that has nothing to do with secret intelligence operations—as opposed to information which is justifiably classified on intelligence sources and methods, or is specifically about personnel and personnel records—the public should be able to get it. 
Information that is not specifically protected under the Freedom of Information Act or the CIA Act should be released. Congress never intended for intelligence agencies to have a carte blanche, blanket exemption from FOIA. The CIA has often sought to apply an overly broad interpretation of federal laws that comes dangerously close to exempting from disclosure any information at all about anything the CIA does. 
Only recently, a mere 59 years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and more than five years after the documents were originally required to be publicly disclosed, thousands of secret government files—largely from the CIA—were finally released. 
In short, CIA does not have a stellar reputation for being forthcoming with respect to public records requests. Nevertheless, the agency provided me with thousands of pages of formerly “top secret” documents.
The CIA does not have a stellar reputation for being forthcoming with respect to public records requests. Nevertheless, the agency provided me with thousands of pages of formerly “top secret” documents. 
Part 2: Public Records Request of STRS Ohio 
On November 27, 2023, I sent the following simple, narrow public record request to STRS Ohio: 
I hereby request, pursuant to Section 149 Ohio Revised Code, all records, documents, reports, memoranda, emails, texts, telephone logs related to Edward Siedle, Ted Siedle, Benchmark Financial Services, Benchmark, and the High Cost of Secrecy. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. 
On December 22, 2023, I received this non-sensical, (cut-and-paste, complete with errors) response from Joy Nelson, Records and Documentation Administration Manager, Legal. 
At the onset, , I must note that your request is overly broad (emphasis added) and does not satisfy the requirement of public records law that you specifically and particularly identify the records that you are seeking. Under Ohio law, a requestor has the duty to “identify the records……wanted with sufficient clarity.” State ex rel. Dillery v. Icsman (2001) 92 Ohio St.3d 312, 314. Requests that have a broad discovery-style demand are improper public records requests. Gupta v. Cleveland, Ct. of Cl. No. 2017-00840PQ, 2018-Ohio-3475, ¶22. 
A public office is not required to conduct research or otherwise “seek out and retrieve those records which would contain the information of interest to the requester.” State ex rel. Fant v. Tober (8th Dist., April 28, 1993), No. 63737, 1993 Ohio App. LEXIS 2591 at *4; aff’d (1993), 68 Ohio St. 3d 117. To the extent that you have requested records containing specific information, rather than identifying the specific records you seek, your request is inappropriate under applicable legal standards. 
If there are specific records you seek, please identify them with sufficient clarity. We have attached the STRS Ohio Record Retention Schedule.. 
So, a request for records related to my father, Robert Siedle, (who clearly was involved in matters impacting National Security) resulted in the release of thousands of declassified top secret documents; on the other hand, a request for documents related to Edward Siedle (a private citizen), was completely summarily denied! 
STRS Ohio’s over-played, “overly broad” response would be laughable—if it wasn’t so sinister. Think about it: Any private individual who requests documents from STRS Ohio regarding himself, can be denied. Records about you held by big government can be withheld from you! 
Any private individual who requests documents from STRS Ohio regarding himself, can be denied. Records about you held by big government can be withheld from you! 
I don’t know what any documents held by STRS Ohio about or related to me say, but STRS Ohio has apparently determined it’s in the pension’s best interest to not comply with state public records law and release them. It is fair to assume there must be some pretty nasty stuff hidden since the pension is willing to stonewall and risk litigation. 
In my father’s case, I spent 27 years poring over declassified records and investigating his murder. As long as there is breath in me, I will pursue from STRS Ohio any documents related to this private citizen.

John Curry with a few words regarding Lynn Hoover's OPERS retirement

From John Curry

February 8, 2024
Lynn Hoover [Acting Executive Director of STRS during Bill Neville's suspension] needs to be replaced ASAP and before she can spike her OPERS Pension. Just look at the money that this will save the OPERS Pension System. If she works 3 years as the STRS Director, her FAS will rise by about a third, as would her pension for the rest of her life. This could cost OPERS upwards of an extra $2.5 million since they also grant annual COLAs. OPERS should thank the MOF for this money saving suggestion. Enough is enough. Get rid of her.

John Curry with a message for STRS Chief Communications Officer Dan Minnich on his latest "Reflections" video

From John Curry

February 8, 2024

For God's sake, Chief Communications Officer Dan Minnich, didn't this Saperstein evaluation (below) of your "Reflections" series of videos sink into your brain? WE teachers & retirees paid thousands of dollars for this evaluation of your crappy productions, and WE want you to quit wasting our money! And, what do you do after this evaluation? YOU PUT OUT ANOTHER REFLECTIONS VIDEO TODAY(2/8/24)!!!
You're damn right.....I'm mad! Why do you have to keep on trying to create a need for your existence at STRS?

Magistrate Thomas W. Scholl III recommends the 10th District Court of Appeals restore the investment expert to the seat he was appointed to by Mr. DeWine in 2020.

Blade Editorial: Running out Steen clock

Published: February 8, 2024
A magistrate’s recommendation concluding that Gov. Mike DeWine usurped his authority by firing Wade Steen from the State Teachers Retirement System board is an opportunity for the governor to correct his mistake and reinstate the lawfully serving board member (“Man should be returned to panel seat,” Wednesday).
Magistrate Thomas W. Scholl III recommends the 10th District Court of Appeals restore the investment expert to the seat he was appointed to by Mr. DeWine in 2020. 
Since his first appointment in 2016 by Gov. John Kasich, Mr. Steen has been a consistent critic of the high-cost, low-performance investment strategy pursued by STRS and the chief opponent of generous performance bonuses to investment staff based on internally created benchmarks designed to guarantee success. 
Teachers groups bitterly opposed to STRS staff bonuses while cost of living adjustments for them were eliminated put up the money for Mr. Steen’s lawsuit against the governor’s action. 
Governor DeWine bounced Mr. Steen from the STRS board on May 5 claiming he was not attending meetings and was “acting as an advocate for a specific investment firm at the expense of a through, competitive and public process.”
Mr. Steen’s attendance record, while not perfect, does not justify his removal from office.
As for his advocacy for a particular investment firm, everybody who participates in choosing specific investments and investment strategies is going to make mistakes.
Mr. Steen proposed STRS invest in the Columbus startup fund management company QED that would have incurred significant risk for taxpayers, even if it had been a strategy that had proven in Canada to be successful.
If Mr. DeWine believed that Mr. Steen had acted inappropriately or unethically, he should have proceeded under the Ohio law that addresses removal of an STRS Board member for misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.
Mr. DeWine didn’t use the legal method at his disposal to determine Mr. Steen’s fitness for service on the STRS board.

Trina Kay Prufer nails it again with "the retirement system from hell"

From Trina Kay Prufer

February 8, 2024

STRS - All the needless drama … and betrayal

STRS has a malevolent legacy of plotting and scheming behind closed doors and then blaming the governor or legislature for harming membership. Additionally, it gaslights about its financial obligations and produces videos claiming retirees are living a financially comfortable life. Is there any wonder STRS has failed on so many levels? Below are just a few examples..
The Wade Steen case - This is a textbook example of a CONSPIRACY gone wrong. Neville and “his” attorney claimed they knew NOTHING before the GOVERNOR decided OUT OF THE BLUE to terminate Wade Steen. Coincidentally, this happened precisely when control of STRS would have favored the reformers. Does anyone believe in the tooth fairy?
The ” reform” legislation of 2012 - This stripped retirees of inflation protection and added years to actives’ service for full retirement. STRS claims the legislature did it… on its own. STRS is just following legislative directives. Are educators really supposed to believe this?
The pre-2012 statue in the ORC conferring benefits to retirees AT THE TIME of their retirement - STRS claims this assurance never existed. Neville says retirees are “misunderstanding“ the ORC, their retirement documents, the benefit plan booklets, the STRS annual reports and their own ears at face-to face retirement conferences. If fact, those complaining are “ malcontents” and not sufficiently grateful for the benefits granted. Apparently there is some imaginary rule that says if the specific word ”guaranteed” is not in a document, STRS does not have any obligation to fulfill the obligations clearly stated in the d-b plan.
STRS is truly the retirement system from hell. I know these are strong words. What we have is a failed system with a penchant for conspiracies, lying, gaslighting and malfeasance. It would make a great movie… if only it had a just ending.
Trina Kay Prufer

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Wade Steen reinstated to the STRS Board 02/06/2024

From the ORTA Blog
February 6, 2024
Wade Steen reinstated to STRS Ohio Board
COLUMBUS, OH – Earlier this morning, the Tenth District Court of Appeals issued its much-anticipated Magistrate’s Decision holding that Wade Steen was improperly ousted as the governor-appointed investment member of the STRS board and is now reinstated.
The court held, “reasonable minds can only conclude the governor lacked the statutory, Constitutional, or inherent authority to remove relator [Wade Steen] from his position…”. Parties have 14 days to object to the magistrate’s decision.
The following statement may be attributed to Wade Steen:
“I am excited to serve the remainder of my term just as I have my first seven years – by doing all I can to ensure our pension fund is solvent, transparent and accountable. I look forward to rejoining my fellow board members in restoring trust with our active and retired educators. To the teachers who supported and encouraged me during this ordeal – and all those who contributed to the ORTA Pension Defense fund – I sincerely thank you.” 
The following statement may be attributed to Dean Dennis, President, Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association:
“With today’s court ruling reinstating Wade Steen, there is now a majority of reform-minded members on the STRS board. Mr. Steen joins five other board members who each won election on the platform of reform, accountability and transparency. There is an overwhelming mandate for change. And change is what teachers expect. The restoration of trust between Ohio teachers and their pension fund will take actions and not just words. ORTA will continue its fight to ensure each teacher can retire with dignity and with the benefits promised." 
In his more than seven years on the STRS board, Wade Steen has been an advocate for Ohio educators. He uncovered millions in hidden fees paid to Wall Street hedge funds and fought against unearned “performance” bonuses for STRS staff.
From the Magistrate's Decision:
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