Controversy Follows New Oregon PERS Director

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The Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) has informed current deputy director Steve Rodeman that he will move into the fund’s top job when executive director Paul Cleary retires in December.

Rodeman has been the fund’s second-in-command since 2008. But his tenure hasn’t been without controversy – last year, there were complaints of harassment and discrimination in the workplace under Rodeman’s watch.

Reported by the Oregonian:

In July 2013, the former director of Human Resources at PERS, Helen Bamford, asked the Department of Justice to investigate employee complaints of discrimination, harassment and a hostile work environment against a group of managers, principally Rodeman, after her efforts to address the complaints internally were unsuccessful.

The DOJ investigation was resolved without a finding, but Bamford subsequently filed a whistleblower and discrimination complaint with the state Employee Relations Board and a tort claim against the state after being forced out of PERS “for the good of the agency.”

Bamford is currently working for the Oregon State Board of Nursing but still officially a PERS employee. She signed a settlement agreement last week with the state, which will pay her $30,000. Neither side admitted fault.

Board members said Friday they were aware of the complaints, but didn’t deal with them directly or discuss them as a board.

“Personnel matters don’t come before the board,” said Pat West, a retired Salem firefighter who sits on the board. “It’s not an issue we would deal with.”

Rodeman did not respond to a request for comment.

Rodeman will be paid an annual salary of $168,000 in his new position.

Oregon PERS Chooses Next Executive Director

NOW HIRINGPaul Cleary, who for ten years has sat at the helm of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, announced this summer that he would retire in December.

Since then, the Oregon PERS has searched for its next executive director. They’ve now announced their decision to promote from within: the next executive director will be Steve Rodeman, who currently serves as the fund’s deputy director.

The move comes on the heels of a push to move more of the fund’s investments in-house. From Chief Investment Officer:

Steve Rodeman, the deputy director of Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), has been chosen as the pension’s new executive director.

On Friday, the PERS board voted unanimously to elect the 13-year veteran to the post, local news website reported.

In March, state lawmakers and public pension representatives pushed for legislative reform to align fiduciary responsibility and bring risk and portfolio management in-house.

Under current governance policy, the treasurer has authority over investment and personnel oversight and cash management via the Oregon Investment Council (OIC). As a result of this structure, the state has had to outsource much of its risk and portfolio management to Wall Street money managers.

Although Rodeman has been with PERS for more than a decade, his role has been on the operational rather than investment side of the organisation.

No official comment had been made by Oregon PERS at the time of going to press.

PERS considered 30 applicants for the job.

Rodeman will be paid an annual salary of $168,000.


 Photo by Nathan Stephens via Flickr CC License

Oregon PERS Reforms: The Supreme Court Will See You Now


Two major reform measures are finally ready for their day in the Oregon Supreme Court.

Public employees are challenging the 2013 reforms –which reduced the state’s unfunded pension liabilities by $5 billion by cutting COLAs and scaling back benefits – on the grounds that the measures broke contracts protected under the state’s constitution.

This week, both sides submitted their written briefings to the Supreme Court. Reported by the Oregonian:

Monday marked the deadline for written briefings to the Oregon Supreme Court, where public employees are challenging the legality of two pension reform bills enacted last year.

The laws reduced retirees’ annual cost of living increases and eliminated a benefit bump-up for out-of-state retirees that don’t pay taxes in Oregon. As such, they helped staunch the precipitous rise in required contributions to the system since the 2008 financial crisis decimated the fund’s investment portfolio and opened up a $16 billion funding gap.

Oral arguments will be held Oct. 14. Each side will have one hour. After that, public employers, the governor, lawmakers, employees and retirees can hold their collective breath, with a decision anticipated during expected in time for the 2015 Legislative session.

A quick breakdown of what we can expect each side to argue, from the Oregonian:

The Legislature referred any challenges to the bills directly to the Supreme Court to expedite the legal decision process. Public employees appealed the changes, arguing in briefs filed earlier this summer that the benefit changes violate the contract clauses of the Oregon and U.S. constitutions and amount to an illegal taking of private property without compensation.

The state and public employers maintain that the cost of living adjustments, contrary to previous decisions by the court, is not an immutable part of the contract. And even if it is, they maintain it can be changed, as the Legislature has done previously.

Likewise, they argue that the extra payments to cover beneficiaries’ state tax liabilities aren’t part of the contract and can be eliminated for out-of-state retirees who don’t pay Oregon taxes.

Legislators briefly weighed enacting another round of pension reforms this year, but they decided against it.