As the Sacramento Bee reported, In an upset, a CalPERS critic wins a seat on the pension board:
Margaret Brown, a Southern California school district administrator, unseated incumbent Michael Bilbrey in a runoff election to win a seat on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration.
Her victory on Tuesday marks an upset over Bilbrey, who had the backing of nearly every state public employee union and a well-funded campaign account. Unions contributed more than $150,000 to help him retain his seat while also touting him in newsletters to their members.
This is a tremendous victory and Brown deserves all your congratulations. She won 53% to 47%, She not only beat an incumbent who had vastly more endorsements (Brown did have the support of two retiree organizations, as well as a police union), but with vastly less funding (a mere $28,000) and a non-secret ballot that looked designed to suppress votes by union members who might dare to oppose the official pick. Brown having unearthed dodgy election practices and raising alarms about them may well have played a role in her victory.
Another factor that Brown believes worked in her favor is that more and more beneficiaries are worried about CalPERS’ underfunding and see the board as too willing to coddle underperforming staff rather than ask tough questions.
And on top of that, Brown prevailed even though her opponent ran a particularly dirty campaign.
I didn’t want to discuss the smeara against Brown because a lot of cognitive research shows that trying to debunk something can actually wind up reinforcing it. However, the Sacramento Bee ran a hit piece against Brown, depicting her as the reason a school district for which she had worked wound up paying over $1.2 million in settlements to four discharged workers. Note that Brown was not responsible for their termination. When they were set to be laid off, they accused her of harassment and discriminating against them as men. If you read the actual files, the substance of their beef was that Brown would sometimes delegate supervisory tasks to her direct report, who happened to be female. A investigation exonerated her in full. Two years later, one of the four sued the school district for which he and Brown had both worked and named her, accusing her of a new angle on his old theme. The district entered into settlements with all four even though only one had targeted Brown, yet the Sacramento Bee, picking up on the messaging of her opponent, made it sound as if she was somehow connected with all four settlements. And the one actual suit? Brown was removed from that suit before the settlement and never signed a release (which she would have done had she been a party to the settlement), which means the Bee had engaged in flagrantly inaccurate reporting. 1
CalPERS appears not to be taking at all well to the fact that an outspoken critic will soon be joining its board. Even though CalPERS announced election results at 1:30 PM Pacific time, only two of the thirteen board members and no staff members had called her to congratulate her as of late evening. That’s ill-mannered but typical of CalPERS’ pettiness and amateurism.
The support of the retiree organizations was key to Brown’s victory. Retiring board member JJ Jelincic and the candidate for the other open seat, Michael Flaherman, were important advisers to Brown and deserve credit for helping her win. And we would like to think we helped too. Brown provided a fundraising post for us, How Naked Capitalism Got Me to Run for Office:
In late January of this year, I read the post that CalPERS was trying to eliminate its most effective Board member, JJ Jelincic. I was outraged. How could legal counsel allow this to occur? And how could other Board members allow this to occur? Why wasn’t someone shutting this down? Why wasn’t someone helping JJ Jelincic? And that’s when it hit me. I could help him. I could run for the Board and help him. I could run for the Board and help others.
Once I committed to running, I knew I had to find a way to meet and talk to Yves Smith…She wanted to know my plan to win, and she wanted to make sure I had thought out what I was trying to do. She was tough, critical, and so very helpful..
The blog and I share the same goal, which is to build up and strengthen CalPERS. We also share the same belief that this goal can only be achieved if CalPERS does a much better job of executing its fiduciary duties. The first step is for CalPERS to acknowledge that the status quo, which Naked Capitalism has painstakingly chronicled, is not acceptable.
We ask all California readers to support Brown in her efforts. Your letters and calls to board members, particularly its two elected officials, the State Treasurer and State Controller, have had an impact by making them see that the public is keeping close watch on their votes at CalPERS. So keep up the good work by helping Brown help you!
1 Consider this example of how biased the story was: “She did not return phone calls seeking further comment.” This implies that Brown didn’t provide further comment. In fact, Brown was responding to the reporter by e-mail on the instructions of her lawyer, and the reporter Adam Ashton replied, so he can’t claim he missed getting her messages.