SERS Board Members Vote To Take Trip To Hawaii Despite Warning Of Perception Problem


UPDATED: Wednesday March 6, 2013 8:51 AM

Several members of the board that oversees the state’s school employee retirement system have voted to attend a conference in Hawaii, even though their executive director warned against it.

Mary Ann Howell, Catherine Moss, and Barbra Phillips are board members of the School Employees Retirement System (SERS).

They are scheduled to attend the May conference at a cost of $12,000 to members and retirees.

The Ohio Retirement Study Council, led by state representative Lynn Wachtmann, voted Tuesday to ask for cancellation of the trip.

“It seems the more we learn about at least some of the SERS board members, the more it becomes clearer and clearer that their board seems to enjoy a bit of extravagance that the other four pension systems do not,” Wachtmann said.

Wachtmann had scheduled a Tuesday meeting for the three to explain details about the trip, but they declined to attend.  Now there are questions about expenses for other trips.

“The SERS board last year spent over $157,000 on travel and expenditures for board meetings, for travel to and from Columbus for board meetings and things,” said Wachtmann.

SERS spokesman Tim Barbour said staff warned members about a possible perception problem with a Hawaii trip.

“Staff brought up there could be a perception problem,” Barbour said.  “Our members and retirees are calling and I can’t say there’s a lot of support for the trip.”

SERS has another meeting scheduled for March 21.

“It will be revisited, especially by the other board members,” Barbour said.  “It was not a unanimous vote.  So there were people already questioning it.”

On their website, the organizers of the Honolulu conference wrote a section called "Sample Justification Letter” for attendees.

The trip comes after lawmakers reformed the public pension systems in Ohio, forcing government employees to work longer and accept lesser benefits.

The changes were made last year to shore up the long-term financial stability of the systems.

SERS is Ohio's third largest public pension fund representing 190,000 members and retirees.

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