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  • STRS Ohio Watchdogs

Teacher-backed candidate wins seat on Ohio retirement board

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With multiple investigations launched into the State Teachers Retirement System, results for its latest election for the board were certified.

In what active and retired teachers in Ohio are calling a “mandate for reform,” STRS announced the certified results of the election for the board seat controlled by active teachers who are currently paying in to the pension system.

Brunswick City Schools teacher Michelle Flanigan overwhelmingly defeated Sandy Smith Fischer, an Intervention Specialist in the Streetsboro City Schools District, by a vote of 22,917 to 3,932.

Flanigan, who teaches Government, Economics and Financial Literacy and once worked as a financial analyst, was backed by a group of retirees and teachers who are demanding reform of the $92 billion pension system. Smith Fischer was endorsed by the Ohio Education Association.

Photos: View of the northern lights across central Ohio

As NBC4 has reported, a group of angry retirees has been working for nearly six years to ensure reform-minded candidates will be elected to the eleven-member board. The retirees are demanding transparency on investments, an end to exorbitant bonuses for the investment staff, and a return of promised cost of living increases they were denied for years.

In April, the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled that Governor Mike DeWine violated state law when he forced his appointed member Wade Steen off the board last year. Retirees say Steen supports reform efforts and used a court order to reclaim his seat, giving reformers a six to five majority. Steen’s term ends in September – the same month Flanigan will join the board ensuring control by reformers.

The election results were announced on the same day that NBC4 learned the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter to STRS demanding preservation of documents in anticipation of litigation.

Yost’s office is investigating what he calls a possible hostile takeover of the STRS board tied to elections for board seats. The preservation notice was also sent to Steen, through his attorney, Norman Abood.

But, Abood put the AG’s office on notice that Steen is also exploring the possibility of litigation related to STRS, writing “[t]here are serious questions about malfeasance, especially regarding Mr. Steen’s wrongful termination and at the management level – including but not limited to, entering into non-disclosure agreements with investment funds, which are then used to preclude financial transparency to the STRS board.”

Abood alleges the non-disclosure agreements make it impossible for board members to carry out their fiduciary oversight duties.

Earlier in this week, Governor Mike DeWine said he was “raising a red flag” about governance issues at STRS based on an anonymous memo received by his office. Yost’s investigation was announced the following day.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Friday that his office is looking into possible failure to comply with campaign finance reporting requirements by teachers who ran for board seats.

ORTA President Robin Rayfield scoffed at allegations of a hostile takeover, saying “The democratic process is never hostile.” Rayfield says both active and retired teachers have picked their leaders and are ready to move forward with the board representatives who were duly


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