CalPERS (for Once) Does the Right Thing, Votes to Retain Transcription of Meetings

In today’s Board Governance meeting, CalPERS voted against a staff recommendation to get rid of its decades-old practice of having a court recorder transcribe its board meetings.

I have to confess that I did not watch the discussion and vote, but I had several accounts of what happened from people who saw it live. I will amend or correct this post if necessary when CalPERS publishes the video.

This victory for transparency and accountability in no small measure was the result of pushback by CalPERS beneficiaries, including those who read Naked Capitalism.

I am told that prominent members of the retiree organizations had contacted board members before the committee meeting to object to the plan to end transcription of meetings. Several also spoke out against it in public comments. One was Jim McRitchie, who described how transcripts had been essential to him preparing testimony to the legislature, making appeals to the Office of Administrative Law, changing the regulations to increase the word count of statements, and requiring a majority vote in Board elections. One of his arguments was to contest the staff’s claim that it was just too expensive to keep preparing transcripts by mentioning our plan to launch a transcript portal: if Naked Capitalism could figure out how to do it on the cheap, why couldn’t CalPERS?

Board member Theresa Taylor set the tone, starting the discussion by saying she wasn’t too comfortable with the idea. The issues presented included that the videos were too cumbersome to use as a record, and that the auto-generated transcript wasn’t adequate because it did not identify speakers.

Board President Priya Mathur tried defending the scheme, and even suggested that the Board Governance committee reconsider it at a later meeting. But the support was clearly so weak that even Matt Jacobs tried ludicrously tried claiming the “kill transcription” plan was not a staff proposal. You can see from the embedded agenda item below, Jacobs was willing to present himself as being the responsible adult. As one reader noted:

According to Matt “Roy Cohn” Jacobs this is NOT a staff recommendation.

Reminds me of the Family Circus and Not Me.

Whose name is on it? I thought they were staff? If not, why do they get pay checks?

The committee voted unanimously to keep preparing transcripts.

Victories for open government are all too rare these days, so kudos to everyone who contributed to this outcome.

CalPERS Agenda Item 8, March 20 board meeting
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  1. Clive

    As Churchill would have said “You can always rely on the US CalPERS to do the right thing, after they have tried all other options”.

    1. Ronald Stein

      We’re constantly trying to put band aids over the wound, but the only way to heal the wound is to change Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions, like the rest of the world.

      Since the public pension system is severely underfunded, city governments need to fund the retirements of former employees by taking money from government services as the increasing pension costs will likely continue to crowd out resources that otherwise would go to public assistance, recreation, libraries, health, public works, and in some cases public safety. Benefit costs are slowly crowding out the discretionary money available for states, districts, and schools to spend on other priorities.

      “Defined retirement benefits” are creeping into budgets, especially when those benefits are underfunded. The unintended consequences are that it’s unfortunate that future generations, unable to vote today, will bear the costs of many enacted pension programs, entitlements and boondoggle projects, requiring the younger generations to pay higher taxes and work later into their lives to pay for these promises.

      The international business world is intelligent enough to know that DEFINED BENEFITS, neither capped nor precisely quantifiable in advance financial disasters to any business, thus all businesses focus on the known, i.e., defined CONTRIBUTIONS alone.

      Stealing from the young who have no votes, but silently shoulder the costs and bear the burden of unfunded promises of these programs to enrich the old seems to describe the Governments expansion of entitlement benefits and other government services, along with the taxes young people will have to pay to support them, mostly to subsidize older Americans.

      Even before those young folks can vote, our Golden State schools are on track to force substantial budgetary cutbacks on core education spending, as public schools around California are bracing for a crisis driven by skyrocketing worker pension costs that are expected to force districts to divert billions of dollars away from education and other government services.

    2. Rex the Wonder Dog!

      “You can always rely on the US CalPERS to do the right thing, after they have tried all other options”.
      LOL^^ Killing me ….

  2. Conrad

    The general counsel; who literally signed off on putting the transcription dumping motion on the agenda, together with the CEO. tried to claim it wasn’t a staff proposal? I’d love to see the transcript of that one…

  3. Norb

    What is remarkable, is lying has become so commonplace, the perpetrators seem to not notice how utterly absurd their positions have become at times.

    To follow up this NC success, maybe retired actuaries could devise a scoring system that reflects a public officaials propensity to lie, and capture that data in a point system. Similar to the FICO score everyone must suffer under. It seems a public service Democracy needs in order to survive. That system would turn Big Data into something positive, instead of just another means for the powerful to exploit the weak.

    A respected organization could publish the scores and maybe some accountability could be brought back into the system. This number follows the politico throughout their career.

    This is written mostly in jest, as with most things human, it is very difficult to capture the complex dynamics in numbers. But wouldn’t it be great if a public service score could be devised and utalized to some effect? Citizens could check the score and easly see the difference between a 300 and 750 candidate, regardless of optics and what is coming out of their mouth at the moment.

    Small victories are great-

    1. RUKidding

      You said you wrote mostly in jest, but I like your proposal re the retired actuaries.

      My friends and I often discuss how easily public officials at all levels (just dealing with the public sector at this moment) lie and lie and lie, yet seem to almost “believe” what their spewing.

      It would be nice to have some sort of score card to bring a dose of reality to the proceedings. Not that enough seem to truck in reality any more.

    2. Rex the Wonder Dog!

      You said you wrote mostly in jest, but I like your proposal re the retired actuaries.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I wonder if someone pointed out to them that it would be no trouble for one of the board members to use their mobiles to record everything and then store the files off-site so that there would be a full record with no “accidents” happening. That would be worse than a transcript as this would be their own words which could never be denied – with the risk that they may one day hear their own words on a TV news program. Yikes!

    1. James McRitchie

      One thing that was noted is that Board members could still order up a transcript for their own research after the meeting. CalPERS staff would presumably have to reconstruct the transcript using closed captioning from video, trying to add the names of speakers and correcting errors. Trying to do that retroactively could cost almost as much as retaining a court reporter. Additionally, although not mentioned, any one of the directors who favor board accountability could theoretically routinely request a transcript of every meeting and then release it to the public.

      Thanks to Naked Capitalism and several union activists, we were able to shut down this most recent initiative. Constant vigilance is required. I think most Board members start out with good intentions but without feedback from stakeholders they can get caught up in their own power bubble. I think this was especially the case when there was little turnover on the Board and members stayed in office for 35 years or more. Back then, they openly declared that laws, such as the Administrative Procedure Act requiring public comment on rulemaking, did not apply to CalPERS. Once you start thinking you are exempt from the law, you have really crossed the line. Let’s all keep working together to ensure CalPERS acts responsibly.

  5. RUKidding

    Nice to get some good news for a change!! Really heartened to learn this.

    Let’s keep pushing that boulder up the hill at CalPers…

  6. ChrisPacific

    Much as I would like to believe this is the result of board members starting to take their responsibility seriously, the cynic in me suspects that it has much more to do with the prospect of Naked Capitalism becoming the de facto public information channel for the board.

  7. HotFlash

    The committee voted unanimously to keep preparing transcripts.

    Victories for open government are all too rare these days, so kudos to everyone who contributed to this outcome.

    Woohoo! And oo (means really big)kudos to Ms Yves and the CalPERS beneficiaries who stepped up and made it happen.

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