It's usually about 85 degrees in Honolulu in May, so when the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio's board of trustees decided to send three members to Hawaii for a conference, they probably were expecting high temperatures.
It’s usually about 85 degrees in Honolulu in May, so when the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s board of trustees decided to send three members to Hawaii for a conference, they probably were expecting high temperatures.
But the decision garnered a different kind of heat yesterday when the Ohio Retirement Study Council — a state oversight panel — advised the retirement fund to cancel the trip.
Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon and chairman of the council, summoned SERS board members Catherine Moss, Barbra Phillips and Mary Ann Howell to yesterday’s council meeting to “ explain why it’s so important to go all the way to Hawaii.”
None showed up.
Ohio’s other four public pension funds are not sending members to the conference. Some said they opted out because the event is in Hawaii.
Even after taking heat from legislators, the fund’s executive director, Lisa Morris, said the board has not made plans to cancel the trip.
The conference, hosted by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, takes place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel, which boasts the largest spa in Waikiki, five pools, 22 acres of white-sand beaches and “a world of blissful relaxation and rejuvenation,” according to its website.
The conference rate at the hotel is $200 per night. Hank Kim, executive director of the conference, said it could be cheaper than last year’s conference in New York, which SERS board members attended.
The board approved in January more than $11,000 for the three members to attend.
The Police and Fire Pension Fund also took some heat from council members for being out of compliance with a state law that says pension funds must have a 30-year plan to stabilize unfunded liabilities.
As of Jan. 1, 2012, the fund had $5.4 billion in unfunded liabilities, and it needed $2.4 billion in additional assets to reach the 30-year funding mark. 2011 was “a less than stellar return year,” Executive Director John Gallagher told the council members. He wants to wait until the fund’s 2012 valuation — which he expects to show better returns — is released in November before submitting a plan to bring the fund in compliance.
Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, said the retirement system hasn’t met the 30-year funding mark for most of the past decade. For the sake of the police officers and firefighters paying into the system, Gallagher should submit a plan to bring the fund into compliance, Burke said.
“These folks need protecting,” he said.
Joshua Jamerson is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.