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Ohio Gov. DeWine makes a change to teachers pension board - again

Gov. Mike DeWine is making another change to the State Teachers Retirement System, even as a lawsuit over his last switch is making its way through the courts.

By Laura A. Bischoff, Columbus Dispatch Feb. 9, 2024

On Friday, the governor appointed Brian Perera as the investment expert. Perera served as finance director for the Ohio Senate for decades before taking a lobbying job at Ohio State University. Currently, he is a senior policy advisor for ZHF Consulting in Columbus.

STRS Ohio is governed by an 11-member board that includes appointees and elected members. The board oversees $90 billion invested for 500,000 teachers and retirees.

Republican former Gov. John Kasich initially appointed Wade Steen to the board for a four-year term. DeWine reappointed him in 2020. But in May 2023, DeWine announced he was replacing Steen with G. Brent Bishop, who is now being replaced by Perera.

Bishop resigned Friday morning without disclosing his reasons. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve on the STRS Board," wrote Bishop, who also stepped off of the University of Toledo board of trustees.

Steen filed a lawsuit over being removed, contending the governor lacked the authority to make the switch. DeWine isn't a party to the lawsuit, but the case raises questions about a governor's powers.

This week, a magistrate's order , which isn't final or binding, said the governor lacked the power to swap out Steen for Bishop.

The term for the seat expires at the end of September. The court case challenging Bishop on the seat could drag on through the summer as each side challenges judicial decisions. Steen asked the court to expedite the case and adopt the magistrate's order.

Activists have been mounting a board takeover, electing board members who are more sympathetic to their complaints about transparency, senior leadership, staff bonuses, and the suspension of the cost-of-living allowances for retirees. Steen, who was seen as aligned with the activists, was replaced just as activists were on the verge of gaining a majority on the board.

In addition to the changes to the board makeup, STRS put its executive director, Bill Neville , on administrative leave in November. An anonymous letter accused Neville of harassment and violent behavior, though his personnel record at STRS for the past 19 years contains no other complaints.

Statement from ORTA:

The lengths that Gov. DeWine and Lt. Gov. Husted are going to obstruct justice and disregard the recent court decision to reinstate Wade Steen to the teacher pension board are both arrogant and wrong. In order to maintain the failed status quo at STRS, DeWine and Husted have blatantly disregard the court, the rule of law and the will of Ohio teachers. Their actions are malicious, illegal and desperate. DeWine and Husted are simply attempting to delay the inevitable: true reform at STRS. We are more confident than ever that the rule of law will prevail and ORTA will continue to fight for a pension that provides dignity for teachers.



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