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  • STRS Ohio Watchdogs

Running out Steen clock

THE BLADE EDITORIAL BOARD


A magistrate’s recommendation concluding that Gov. Mike DeWine usurped his authority by firing Wade Steen from the State Teachers Retirement System board is an opportunity for the governor to correct his mistake and reinstate the lawfully serving board member (“Man should be returned to panel seat,” Wednesday).


Magistrate Thomas W. Scholl III recommends the 10th District Court of Appeals restore the investment expert to the seat he was appointed to by Mr. DeWine in 2020.


Since his first appointment in 2016 by Gov. John Kasich, Mr. Steen has been a consistent critic of the high-cost, low-performance investment strategy pursued by STRS and the chief opponent of generous performance bonuses to investment staff based on internally created benchmarks designed to guarantee success.


Teachers groups bitterly opposed to STRS staff bonuses while cost of living adjustments for them were eliminated put up the money for Mr. Steen’s lawsuit against the governor’s action.


Governor DeWine bounced Mr. Steen from the STRS board on May 5 claiming he was not attending meetings and was “acting as an advocate for a specific investment firm at the expense of a through, competitive and public process.”


Mr. Steen’s attendance record, while not perfect, does not justify his removal from office.

As for his advocacy for a particular investment firm, everybody who participates in choosing specific investments and investment strategies is going to make mistakes.


Mr. Steen proposed STRS invest in the Columbus startup fund management company QED that would have incurred significant risk for taxpayers, even if it had been a strategy that had proven in Canada to be successful.


If Mr. DeWine believed that Mr. Steen had acted inappropriately or unethically, he should have proceeded under the Ohio law that addresses removal of an STRS Board member for misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.


Mr. DeWine didn’t use the legal method at his disposal to determine Mr. Steen’s fitness for service on the STRS board.


Instead Governor DeWine asserted that he has the power to replace his appointment, despite the obvious breach of fiduciary responsibility to pension beneficiaries inherent in an appointee expected to serve at the pleasure of the governor.


The magistrate’s decision requires validation by the appeals court judges and could then be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. Given the eight-month wait for the initial ruling, it is likely there will be no final decision regarding Mr. Steen before his term expires in September.


This is an important question about the governor’s appointment power, and it should not be made moot by running out the clock.


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