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  • STRS Ohio Watchdogs

Blade Editorial: STRS chaos continues

The long-running controversy at the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, detailed in Blade news reports with commentary from The Blade Editorial Board, continues to swirl in Columbus.

Confidence in the $92 billion retirement system for a half million Ohio teachers evaporates with each managerial miscue. (“Musical chairs on state teachers pension board continues,” Feb. 10)

Gov. Mike DeWine has ignored an appeals court magistrate’s finding that he has no legal or constitutional power to expel appointee Wade Steen from the STRS board. Before the 10th District Court of Appeals rules whether to uphold their magistrate’s recommendation to restore Mr. Steen to his STRS board seat after eight months of legal wrangling, Mr. DeWine has replaced

former University of Toledo Trustee G. Brent Bishop with former Ohio State University lobbyist Brian Perera as his appointee. Mr. Bishop abruptly ended his service at STRS and UT with simultaneous resignations from both boards leaving two troubled institutions in the lurch.

Mr. Perera got a baptism by fire as the STRS board held a marathon executive session, presumably on the continued employment of suspended Executive Director Bill Neville. The teacher’s pension has been paying Mr. Neville to stay home since November, while an independent law firm investigates allegations of misconduct by the executive director.

The STRS Board decided to extend Mr. Neville’s suspension to mid-May and to provide him professional development services. Market-trailing investment returns and annual investment staff bonuses made Mr. Neville a target for termination by STRS board members elected by retirees or

teachers on the promise of reform.

Mr. Steen was a leader of the STRS reform faction, and there was a majority to make sweeping change of personnel and policy at STRS until Mr. DeWine stepped in and stopped the process by replacing Mr. Steen with the status quo protective appointment of Mr. Bishop.

The governor contributed greatly to the chaos at STRS by acting outside the law to get rid of Mr. Steen. First Mr. DeWine said Mr. Steen missed too many meetings. Now he says Mr. Steen was in the tank for a bad investment and was misrepresenting his STRS policy positions to the governor’s staff.

Mr. DeWine’s failure to follow the legal process spelled out in Ohio law for removal of a pension board member makes his motives suspect. The law requires allegations of board member malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance be leveled in Common Pleas Court where a hearing is held and a binding finding is made.

The 11-member STRS board is split 6-5 between status quo protectors and reformers. Mr. DeWine’s move supplied the majority vote but bought STRS expensive legal disputes if they take any significant action as Mr. Perera is serving illegally according to the considered opinion of the magistrate assigned to Mr. Steen’s lawsuit demanding a return to the board.

As a two-term Ohio Attorney General, Mr. DeWine is the last person at the Statehouse who should be coloring outside the lines of his legal authority. Pension beneficiaries and Ohio taxpayers are ill-served by this episode of Ohio pension follies.

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