By Marc Kovac
Two members of a public-employee pension board have withdrawn their requests for state reimbursement for a Hawaii conference after lawmakers threatened action to block funding for that trip and subsequent travel.
The move Tuesday came just before a potential floor vote on the issue and after weeks of criticism of the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio board members’ decision to attend the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems.
The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review earlier in the week began pressing a rule change that would have blocked any travel by state pension board members, and the Ohio House and Senate were prepared to OK comparable resolutions solidifying that decision, if necessary.
State Rep. Ross McGregor of Springfield, R-77th, who serves as chairman of JCARR, told reporters Tuesday SERS board members Barbra Phillips, from Ashland, and Catherine Moss, from Lake County, both submitted emails rescinding their reimbursement requests.
“There’s certainly legitimate travel needs, but we have to be aware of the perception from the constituencies that we represent. In this case, it was pretty clear that we thought it was excessive,” McGregor said, adding later, “I am concerned by the defiant attitude by some members of that board as it related to this particular issue. ... It’s regrettable that we had to come to the position we were in yesterday at the JCARR meeting. I also want to be clear that I know that this is not indicative of all the board members of SERS nor the staff of SERS who I think some tried very diligently to dissuade people from pursuing this.”
SERS defended the trip, which would have cost thousands of dollars, saying the outlay was lower than past conferences and board members would have benefited from the educational sessions offered.
The national conference posted a statement of its own defending the site selection.
Among its reasons: The group’s president is from the state, “Honolulu is as economical as it is beautiful” and “Beyond its well-known beaches, Hawaii has a fast-paced and contemporary business community.”