Under the Dome

Potential conflict policy could prevent treasurers from serving on private boards

Janet Cowell
Janet Cowell

The state treasurer’s staff will take a closer look at whether future treasurers should be permitted to serve on commercial corporate boards.

That was the word delivered at a meeting Thursday of the boards of trustees for North Carolina’s pension systems. Blake Thomas, interim general counsel for the treasurer’s office, read from a prepared statement saying two members of the retirement boards raised concerns about whether the dual roles could pose a conflict of interest.

The issue came up earlier this year when it was learned that Treasurer Janet Cowell was serving on two corporate boards. Cowell, who has announced she will not seek re-election, has said none of the pension money she’s responsible for is invested in the companies whose boards she joined. She received permission from the State Ethics Commission first.

According to Thomas, Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement systems trustees John Aneralla and Michael Mebane expressed high regard for Cowell, but said they were concerned about the prospect of any treasurer serving on a private board. They discussed it with Cowell in June.

Cowell told them that any new policies that are developed should also apply to others in similar positions across state government, Thomas said. Those at the meeting agreed staff would study policy options and present them at a committee meeting in September.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina, which has called on Cowell to resign from the boards or step down from office, expressed its concerns at Thursday’s meeting. Afterward, SEANC lobbyist Flint Benson reiterated those concerns.

“When one is the sole fiduciary of a $90 billion retirement system you should not have time to seek secondary employment, especially when your investment rate of returns has been in the bottom 10 percent of the nation for the last five years,” he said.

Brad Young, a spokesman for Cowell, said some sort of recommended change in policy is the intention of the study. The General Assembly would likely have to enact any such changes.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO