California

California retirees look for ‘independent’ voice in new CalPERS president

New CalPERS leaders don’t trust each other. Will their feud hurt members?

On March 19, new CalPERS board member Margaret Brown drew attention to discipline she experienced for allowing a friend to use CalPERS equipment for political purposes by asking whether she would be arrested for attending the pension fund's meeting.
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On March 19, new CalPERS board member Margaret Brown drew attention to discipline she experienced for allowing a friend to use CalPERS equipment for political purposes by asking whether she would be arrested for attending the pension fund's meeting.

The nation’s largest pension fund has a retiree as the president of its board of administration for the first time in recent memory.

The CalPERS Board of Administration chose Henry Jones as its president this week, marking the first time in at least 25 years that a retired public employee has held the leadership role. Jones also is the first African-American man to be elected CalPERS president.

CalPERS, a $348 billion pension fund, has a 13-member board that oversees its chief executive officer and sets direction for investment goals and health care plans.

The president has additional responsibilities, including setting rules for board governance, disciplining board members and handing out committee assignments.

Jones, 77, of the Los Angeles area, has served on the 13-member board for 11 years.

Tim Behrens, president of California State Retirees, said he hopes Jones would be willing to break with staff recommendations that could reduce health care benefits for retirees.

CalPERS last year negotiated its lowest health care premium increases in 21 years. Former board President Priya Mathur and others at CalPERS celebrated the rates, but the deal had a drawback for 14,000 CalPERS members who were compelled to choose new health plans.

“We’re glad to have someone come on who can be independent,” Behrens said.

Jones’ board seat is up for re-election this year, and Behrens said he expects the election to be competitive. Candidates must file by May 16. The voting period will run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 30, according to CalPERS.

Jones was chief financial officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District before he retired in 1998, according to a CalPERS news release.

“It’s an honor to serve as president of the CalPERS Board,” Jones said in a statement, adding, “I’m proud to be the first African-American to take this leadership role as we continue to provide pension and health security to our members.”

He succeeds Mathur, who held the leadership role for a year before she lost her board seat last year to Corona police officer Jason Perez.

The CalPERS board selected her as its president on a 7-6 vote a year ago with union-supported members choosing her. Board members who were appointed by the governor or elected with support from retirees voted against her.

Before Mathur, Rob Feckner was board president for 13 years. Feckner is a former leader of the California School Employees Association. Feckner’s two predecessors are former United Food and Commercial Workers executive Sean Harrigan and former California Faculty Association President William Crist.

Theresa Taylor, who represents state members, was elected vice president Tuesday. Taylor is a Franchise Tax Board compliance representative and a recent vice president of state government’s largest union, SEIU Local 1000.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Jones’ age.
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