Staff members at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) pension fund have been hitting all the best vacation spots lately. But an investigation by the Better Government Association (BGA) raises questions about whether those trips—which were billed to the pension fund—were necessary.
The visits were work related—but they were also expensive, according to the BGA:
The newly released records show the agency’s expenses include more than $20,000 on a six-night trip to Hawaii for five people in 2010, $4,400 on a three-night trip to New Orleans for two people in 2011, $7,500 on a four-night, four-person trip to San Diego in 2012 and about $12,000 on a four-night trip to Las Vegas for six people in 2013.
The fund’s executive director, John Kallianis, was among those who went to Las Vegas and San Diego. He defended the trips, saying the conferences were “rigorous” and “very well worth the expense.”
Executive staff members at the CTA fund said that the trips were valuable because such conferences are educational for staff and trustees, and the distance travelled was necessary because the conferences don’t often come to Midwest locales.
But CTA pension officials did seem to know the travel information wouldn’t be received well if released to the public. Those officials initially refused to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests asking for the travel receipts and documents.
Eventually the BGA sued for access to the data, and CTA officials complied.
This isn’t the first time there have been questions around the governance of the CTA fund. From the BGA:
The fund’s governance came into question several times over the last year when we reported that its now-former investment adviser was under a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and that one of the CTA pension trustees was soliciting donations for a union charity from pension advisers.
It would be helpful to see the travel expense totals for other pension funds of comparable size—it’s certainly not uncommon for staff to travel to conferences, but without seeing other data it’s hard to say whether the CTA staff’s travel expenses were excessive relative to their peers.
The CTA pension fund was 59.4 percent funded as of January 2013.
Photo by David Wilson