I read with great dismay your June 17 editorial “ Let it go” on SEANC’s investigation into State Treasurer Janet Cowell’s mishandling of our pension fund. This is not a personal crusade against Cowell. This is a SEANC membership-led effort to make sure that 6 percent of state employees’ paychecks is safe and to ensure the retirement security of state employees who have dedicated a lifetime of public service to North Carolina.
Let’s get something straight: That’s our money in the retirement system. It’s not Cowell’s to use as a bargaining chip to gain political favors in the General Assembly and campaign contributions from Wall Street.
You say that our fund is “secure – thanks to a conservatively managed pension fund.” That is incorrect. It is one of the best-funded pensions in the country thanks to our contributions and those recently from the General Assembly, not because Cowell is a master investor. Last year her investments netted over 2 percent less than the median public pension system nationwide, which equates to about $2 billion in unrealized gains for our system. That’s why our retiree council and executive committee unanimously approved hiring former SEC attorney and pension expert Ted Siedle to investigate the fund. Executive Director Dana Cope didn’t call for this investigation. We, the membership, did.
A few years ago, SEANC spoke out against then-Treasurer Richard Moore’s pay-to-play shenanigans. It turned out we were right then, by Cowell’s own recent admission. We’re right on this one, too. It’s always best to look at who stands to benefit the most. If SEANC is right, what do we gain? We gain transparency for our hard-earned pension dollars and peace of mind for our members. What does Cowell stand to lose? A whole bunch of campaign donations, for one. The potential of a million-dollar job when she leaves office, just like Moore received, for another.
The needs of 800,000 North Carolinians should outweigh the personal desires of one politician. Your mentioning that Cowell worked in the financial industry and has a degree from Wharton only furthers our point. She’s entrenched with Wall Street. She’s not looking out for us.
Instead of taking personal shots at our executive director, you should actually read our report and comb through the reports we received from the treasurer’s office in response to our public records request. You would see the treasurer does not include the “fees and expenses of investment managers” paid by the system in her annual report. You would see the many heavily redacted “reports” from money managers that we received from her office. You would see that she has the power to move more than $30 billion of our money to secret accounts that would never see the light of day under today’s laws – all the while calling it “trade secrets.”
All we want is openness. After all, it’s our money at stake.
Sidney M. Sandy
President, State Employees Association of North Carolina, Indian Trail
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.