San Francisco Pension Postpones Appointment of Board Member in Wake of Ethics Complaint

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San Francisco’s former first lady Wendy Paskin-Jordan sits on the board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS); her seat is appointed by city mayor Ed Lee, who was ready to appoint her to another term.

But an ethics complaint has put Paskin-Jordan’s appointment “on hold”. The details of the complaint:

The main issue discussed Tuesday was her investment in Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo and Co., an investment firm, in which the employees’ pension fund has invested $388 million. In a required financial disclosure statement filed last year, Paskin-Jordan reported she had invested between $100,000 and $1 million in GMO in August 2011. That amount, however, is below the company’s minimum investment threshold of $10 million.

City law prohibits board members from investing in private equity, limited partnerships and in nonpublically traded mutual funds doing business with the Employees’ Retirement System. Additionally, city law prohibits a board member from soliciting or accepting “a business opportunity, a personal loan, a favor or anything of value from any public entity or firm doing business with SFERS.”

Paskin-Jordan has been out of town recently, but the rest of the board wants to give her a chance to explain the situation for herself in front of the board. Meanwhile, she has the support of the retirement system’s Executive Director. From the SF Examiner:

In a Dec. 8 letter to the Ethics Commission, retirement system Executive Director Jay Huish argues that both these laws were not broken by Paskin-Jordan’s investment.

Huish noted that GMO is considered a manager of public-market assets, and that Paskin-Jordan had received a threshold waiver to invest in GMO from her former employees who went on to work there. That waiver, Huish said, was granted before she was appointed to the board and exercised after she was on the board.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages about $20 billion in assets.


Photo by ilirjan rrumbullaku via Flickr CC License

San Francisco Pension Postpones Hedge Fund Vote

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The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System is delaying a vote on a new proposal to begin investing in hedge funds.

The scaled-down proposal calls for investing a maximum of 5 percent of assets in hedge funds. Originally, the pension fund was considering a 15 percent allocation.

The vote will be held in February.

More from SF Gate:

The board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System voted Wednesday to postpone a decision on investing in hedge funds until February to give staff time to research an alternative proposal that was submitted Tuesday night.

The alternative calls for investing just 5 percent of the fund’s $20 billion in assets in hedge funds and — in a new twist — putting 3 percent in Bay Area real estate.

The system’s investment staff had recommended sinking $3 billion — or 15 percent of the fund’s $20 billion in assets — in hedge funds as part of an asset-allocation overhaul. The system, which manages pension money for about 50,000 active and retired city workers, has never invested in hedge funds. The goals of the plan included reducing volatility, improving performance in down markets and enhancing diversification.

Staff also would have supported investing 10 or 12 percent in hedge funds, but didn’t want to go below that. “Without 10 percent it wouldn’t be a meaningful hedge against a down market. We felt that was an absolute minimum,” Jay Huish, the system’s executive director, said in an interview last month.

But some members of the board were reluctant to make that big a commitment to hedge funds, especially after the giant California Employees Retirement System announced Sept. 15 that it will exit all hedge funds over the next year “as part of an ongoing effort to reduce complexity and costs in its investment program.” At that time, CalPERS had $4 billion or 1.4 percent of its assets in hedge funds. San Francisco’s system would have been one of the first public pension funds to make a major decision on hedge funds since then.

At Tuesday’s meeting, about 30 active and retired city employees begged the board not to invest 15 percent in hedge funds. Among their arguments: that hedge funds are too risky, illiquid, not transparent, charge excessive fees and may amplify systemic risks in the financial system.

Only one spoke in favor of it: Mike Hebel, who represents the San Francisco Police Officers Association. He said the system needs an asset allocation makeover to prevent another hit like it took in the 2008-09 market crash and hedge funds should be part of that. The value of its investments fell by about $6.3 billion or 36 percent during that period.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.


Photo by ilirjan rrumbullaku via Flickr CC License