Thursday, October 2, 2003

Lawmaker proposes overhaul of state retirement fund boards

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Ohio's attorney general would lose a seat on the state's pension fund boards in return for more power to investigate questionable spending by the retirement systems, under legislation proposed Wednesday.

Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, a Napoleon Republican, wants to allow the attorney general to investigate and file suit against any board members who have breached their duties to properly manage the funds' investments.

Wachtmann, chairman of the Ohio Retirement Study Council, announced his legislation following reports of questionable spending by officials in the state's retirement systems serving teachers, police and firefighters.

David Harker, chairman of the Ohio Police and Fire Pension board, resigned last month after the state's largest police organization called on him and two other trustees to step down over travel expenses.

In August, former State Teachers Retirement System Executive Director Herbert Dyer resigned after criticism of the system's spending practices.

Attorney General Jim Petro favors eliminating the requirement that the state's elected auditor and attorney general sit on the pension boards. He said the posts create a potential conflict of interest in investigating those bodies.

Wachtmann said retirees have lost confidence in the state's five pension funds.

Avanelle Oberlin, a retired special-education teacher, opposes removing the attorney general.

She said the attorney general's representative should be on the board as a safeguard against abuses.

"They need to be on the board, attending the meetings and be aware of what's happening to prevent these things," said Oberlin, 71, who taught special education for 25 years at Marysville High School in central Ohio.

Gary Monto, president of the Police and Fire Retirees of Ohio, agrees with removing the attorney general but not with Wachtmann's proposal to replace that person with someone from the Office of Budget and Management.

He wants another retired officer or firefighter added instead.

"Putting another government agency on the board isn't going to do anything," Monto said Wednesday

Wachtmann's proposal would also require pension fund investment officers to be licensed with the state and would require the Ohio Retirement Study Council to audit each fund every five years.

Officials with the Public Employees Retirement System, the state's largest pension fund, said in a statement they support Wachtmann's legislation.

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