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State Treausurer Curtis Loftis made progress last week in his crusade for better oversight of the state's $25 billion pension fund.
The state Budget and Control Board voted to hire an outside attorney to review the 2005 state law creating the Retirement SystemInvestment Commission, which manages the portfolio, and the roles to be played by the elected treasurer and the appointed commission.
The board also directed the Investment Commission to recommend changes to the law.
An attorney's opinion about the law is hardly the last word. If there truly is a disagreement about how the commission should operate under the law, a lawsuit and a court ruling would be needed to settle it. Lawmakers, who passed the law and should know what was intended, ought to be paying attention, too.
It's already clear that there is too much secrecy in a process involving billions of the public's dollars. Loftis is prohibited from getting his own staff's input on the commission's investment activities. As a member of the commission, he can review documents, but his staff can't.
Confidentiality agreements between the commission and fund managers prevents outsiders from seeing the contracts, which are written and reviewed by commission staff.
That's wrong. Transparency is critical to public confidence in the commission's management of our money.
Commission chairman Reynolds Williams says that in future contract negotiations, the staff would try to insert a clause giving the treasurer's staff full access to records and would try to renegotiate current contracts.
Try? The secrecy should not have been allowed in the first place.
More than half the fund is invested in private equity and hedge funds. We're told the contracts are confidential because the financial firms that manage the pension system investments don't want the terms of their agreements to be publicly known. That could hurt the management fees they negotiate with other clients.
That's a very poor reason to reduce public oversight of a fund that 530,000 public employees, retirees and their beneficiaries count on and all of us support financially.
Loftis should keep pushing for more openness, and the Investment Commission -- and private financial firms -- should not stand in the way.