Public Pension Transparency: CCCERA flys under radar

The Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association (CCCERA) is an independent governmental entity, separate and distinct from Contra Costa County. It administers retirement benefits for the County, 16 participating agencies and retirees from 8 formerly-participating agencies.* The system has over 18,000 active and retired members and manages over $5 billion in assets.  CCCERA’s unfunded actuarial accrued liability – for which taxpayers are liable — is $1.48 billion. But its meetings are held in shadows with little transparency about its decisions and operations.

Because Contra Costa residents are served by several of these agencies, they’re obligated to fund CCCERA pensions for multiple employers. Due to this cumulative effect, taxpayers have major skin in the CCCERA game.

One would expect a government agency of this size, reach and importance to be fully accessible to the public, in a manner similar to City Councils. Instead, the CCCERA Board of Trustees meets on weekdays, with limited public participation, and makes no audio or video recordings of its meetings publicly available. Board minutes record actions, but exclude discussion.  As a result, crucial Board developments are unknown to all except those in attendance.

At the September 12th CCCERA Board meeting Kris Hunt, Executive Director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, asked the Board to make audio or video recordings of its meetings available on its website.  In her letter to the Board, Hunt states:

CCCERA is a $5 billion public pension system providing . . . benefits to 17 public agencies.   All of these public agencies currently are experiencing budget strains to varying degrees . . . Given the financial impact of CCCERA’s decisions on the services offered by these agencies, it is only fitting that the public receive access to full and complete information regarding Board meetings . . . 

Later in the meeting County Supervisor John Gioia acknowledged that meeting recordings would come in handy to resolve Board disputes regarding meeting minutes – such as the one, ironically, that occurred at this same meeting.  It is expected the Board will consider Hunt’s request on a future agenda.

For any government agency that controls $5 billion in taxpayer dollars, making recordings of Board meetings seems like the least it can do.

* Per CCCERA’s 2011 financial report:   Currently, Contra Costa County and 16 other participating agencies are members of CCCERA. The participating agencies include: Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District; Byron, Brentwood, Knightsen Union Cemetery District; Central Contra Costa Sanitary District; Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association; Contra Costa Housing Authority; Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District; First 5 – Children & Families Commission; In-Home Supportive Services Authority (IHSS); Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO); Rodeo Sanitary District; Superior Courts of Contra Costa County; Contra Costa Fire Protection District; East Contra Costa Fire Protection District; Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection District; Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District; and the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.  In addition, CCCERA administers retirement, disability, or survivor benefits to retirees or beneficiaries of the following former participating agencies:  Alamo-Lafayette Cemetery District; City of Pittsburg; Delta Diablo Sanitation District; Diablo Water District; Ironhouse Sanitary District; Kensington Fire Protection District; Superintendent of Schools – Contra Costa County Office of Education; and the Stege Sanitary District.

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Comments

  1. Wendy Lack says

    Update:

    At the October 10, 2012 CCCERA Board meeting Contra Costa Taxpayers Association Executive Director, Kris Hunt, restated her request for the Board to record its meetings and make the recordings publicly available. She also noted that the Board’s September meeting minutes omitted reference to county supervisor John Gioia’s request for staff to “look into” recording Board meetings, per Hunt’s letter.

    Notably, Hunt’s remarks were completely ignored and the September meeting minutes were adopted without amendment to include Gioia’s request.

    Since a copy of Hunt’s correspondence was excluded from the Board’s meeting minutes, there is no official record that this issue was ever raised. Poof, like magic, the matter just disappears.

    Through its actions the Board has made it clear that it has no intention of responding to public requests for improved transparency. However, the fact remains that a $5+ billion government agency that refuses reasonable requests for Board meeting recordings is, at best, troubling and, at worst, suspect.

    Also disturbing is the fact that neither CCCERA Board members nor staff appear concerned about the organization’s public image. One would think at least someone — on staff or on the Board — would feel self-conscious or humiliated by the Board’s stonewalling on this issue. But there’s no sign of shame or concern. Curious.

    It makes you wonder: Why is the Board so resistant to making meeting information easily available to the public? What exactly does the Board have to hide:
    - From the press and public?
    - From participating system employers?
    - From unions representing employees in the system?
    - From system participants?

    To quote Shakespeare: “Mischief, thou art afoot!”

  2. Sam Houston says

    Why does it take two months or longer for the Retirement Board Minutes to be posted on the CCCERA website? Ridiculous!

  3. Wendy Lack says

    Notably the CCCERA Retirement Board agenda for the next meeting on October 10th, excludes discussion of the request from the taxpayers’ association to record Board meetings.

    Note: CCCERA’s October 10th agenda is available at: http://www.cccera.org/agendas/agendas%202012/agenda10.10.12.html

    Does the Board assume that ignoring the issue of public transparency will make concerns just go away? Does the Board assume that the taxpayers association will just walk away, without receiving a responsive response?

    Importantly, other county pension Boards videotape meetings and find this an efficient way to train Board members and share presentations from actuaries and legal counsel with absent Board members and staff, as well as the general public. Why let such valuable learning opportunities be lost?

    More to the point, why is Contra Costa’s pension board evading the issue of recording its meetings? Why is Contra Costa resistant to simple audio recording and archiving of its Board meetings, to make its deliberations publicly available? The Board’s resistance to engaging this issue raises suspicion.

    One hopes that one of the Board members will amend the October 10th agenda to permit discussion and future action regarding this issue. The public deserves nothing less.

  4. Voter26 says

    Why doesn’t that stupid governor see the cliff he is sending us over? His lame pension reform will do next to nothing. He needs to put regulators and open government rules on pension trustees.

    Don’t vote for his new taxes until he gets realistic with reforms.