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Blade Editorial: Keep public comment

Anyone who has ever seen Ohio teachers address the STRS board would understand the hell to pay for restricting that forum.

The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio is getting some terrible advice from high-priced consultants, which if followed would only deepen the distrust between teachers and their pension administrators.

AON Consulting recommends public participation in the monthly STRS board meetings be significantly curtailed. The fiduciary experts at AON want the STRS board to cut the number of public speakers they’ll allow from the current 15 per-meeting and require speaker requests to be

submitted a week before the meeting with written remarks for examination.

The STRS board wisely ignored that counterproductive advice. STRS members attend their pension board in large numbers. The three-minute public comment opportunity is zealously utilized and gives STRS board members more direct input on important issues than any of the other Ohio pension funds receive on a regular basis. In recent years that input has been decidedly negative. Disgruntled STRS beneficiaries use the public comment section of the meeting to argue

against many policies advocated by the pension staff.

There is no issue raised more often than the outrage of multimillion-dollar bonuses for the STRS investment staff while pension beneficiaries have gone years without a cost of living adjustment.

There are dozens more issues regarding the value of the benefits versus the cost of the teacher contribution, the administrative costs of staff salaries, and headquarters upkeep and credibility of the financial reporting from the STRS staff. But no matter what the issue, the ability of teachers to speak on the issue publicly without prior restraint is the single best way to vent frustration with the pension.

The public comments have signaled deep dissatisfaction and presaged the results of board elections that have given huge majorities to reform candidates for the last four board seats. In fact, because the teacher comments are publicized through the Ohio Retirement for Teacher Association and the STRS Watchdogs Facebook group, they greatly impact the board elections.

But it’s surprising the AON Consulting anti-participation recommendation ever made it to the board for public ridicule. STRS has a huge in-house public relations team with the top managers well into six-figure salaries. Anyone who has ever seen Ohio teachers address the STRS board would understand the hell to pay for restricting that forum.

By itself the AON recommendation and the lack of staff filter are minor issues. But it is a telling example of the pension’s biggest public relations problem; too many beneficiaries don’t trust STRS to put their interests first.

The last things STRS should be trying to do is shut down a forum teachers have effectively used, or paying members money to consultants so cluelessthey make such a foolish recommendation.

Toledo Blade December 19, 2023



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