Detroit pension boards sending 4 to Hawaii for conference

Detroit pension boards sending 4 trustees to Hawaii for conference

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The Spirit of Detroit statue outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. The Spirit of Detroit statue outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
DETROIT (WJBK) -

The City of Detroit's two pension boards are under fire after agreeing to send four trustees to a resort in Hawaii this weekend for a conference.

The boards say the conference provides education that the trustees need, but some people say the trip sends the wrong message.

"I worked for my pension, and I don't want to go into my more senior years clawing and scratching and looking for bargains everywhere I can," said David Mahalab, a retired police sergeant.

That's exactly why pension fund trustees have to know what they're doing. Detroit police and fire retiree trustee Mark Diaz said education is part of the job.

"We want to ensure that all of our pension board trustees are as trained as absolutely humanly possible," he remarked.

But do they have to get that education in Hawaii?

Records obtained by the Free Press reveal Detroit's Police and Fire Retirement System and the General Retirement System are spending more than $22,000 sending the trustees to the conference. One is even flying first class.

Both funds released a statement saying the conference is full of important information that allows these trustees to do the job. But two of those trustees are Bing appointees, which mean they could be out come November, and another one's term expires next month.

Diaz had the chance to attend the conference, and he did when it was in the continental U.S. But this year, he and the vast majority of the pension trustees, including the police and firefighters, said no to Hawaii.

"There's a lot of training that is available to pension board trustees, and I can only tell you that, speaking for myself as one trustee, I would not go to Hawaii for that training," he said.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is very concerned about the board members' trip to Hawaii and is weighing his options. Those options could include removing board members who attend the conference.

The pension systems released the following statements:

Statement on NCPERS conference from the Police And Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit:

Representatives of virtually every substantial public employee pension fund in the United States, regularly attend the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS).

The members of the Board of Trustees have a fiduciary duty to educate themselves in the furtherance of their roles as Trustees. It is incumbent upon them to be well versed in the various investment opportunities, models and standard language of investors so they may wisely make decisions on behalf of the fund. Accordingly, it is common practice to attend educational seminars and benchmark what other public and private pension funds are doing to bolster and protect their investments in these economic times. The Police and Fire Trustees who have volunteered to attend are Angela James and Edsel Jenkins and they have agreed to share with the Board of Trustees and staff the knowledge and experience gained from attending the session which carries Eight hours of Continuing Education Credits.

Featured educational seminars at this year's conference include:

  • Administrative Efficiency Through Technology
  • Municipal bankruptcies to eliminate DB plans: Focus on California
  • State Association Panel: What is happening in your state
  • Implications of Affordable Care Act
  • Disaster Planning for Pension Plans
  • Pension Actuarial Science
  • Trustee Ethics

The Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit has several new trustee members and we encourage them and veterans alike to stay up to date on best practices and information related to fund management. We are pleased that two Trustees have made a time commitment in their schedules to attend the NCPERS conference to further their education and understanding of the latest thinking and experiences of pension plans across the country. The pension plan policy is to reimburse trustees for lodging, airfare and registration per its standard travel policies.   

The NCPERS conference will require a day of traveling to and from the conference and four-night stay. Only two of 16 PFRS Trustees are attending and only two Trustees for the Nine-member General Retirement System Board of Trustees are attending. It is our understanding that they have graciously agreed to update fellow Board members on the information they learn from the seminars.

The Board is operating under new governance policies and procedures as well as a stringent ethics policy. We have also secured a new in-house investment advisor to perform maximum due diligence on all investment matters. We are highly confident the Police and Fire Pension Fund is working in the best interests of its membership and its Board in a transparent mode and education and conferences are part of our duties. As of its last actuarial report, the Police and Fire Pension Fund is 96% funded to serve its 12,000 members.

NCPERS has stated its goal for the 2013 conference is to ensure its annual conferences provide continuing education on timely topics to those who run public pension systems and opportunities for pension fund officials to meet, network and collaborate. This is particularly important at a time of economic uncertainty and a changing regulatory environment, the organization wrote in a letter to its members. For more information on NCPERS please visit www.NCPERS.org.

For more information on PFRS Board of Trustees travel, ethics and governance policies please visit www.PFRSDetroit.org.

Statement from General Retirement System of the City of Detroit

"The Board of Trustees of the General Retirement System of the City of Detroit is committed to serving is members, retirees and beneficiaries.

Education is an essential function of serving as a trustee and conferences such as The National Conference on Public Employee Retirement System (NCPERS) facilitate that exchange of knowledge. The knowledge gained by trustees at this conference will assist them in prudently executing their fiduciary responsibilities/obligations. The travel expenses were reviewed and received board approval. It is in full accordance with the Education and Travel policies adopted by the Board of Trustees.

Even though the City of Detroit is going through a critical time, the Board of Trustees must keep pace with the evolving discussions as to solving the pension issues which many of the public pension plans throughout the country are facing."

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