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PERA plans new oversight committee

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state board overseeing a $15 billion public pension fund plans to create a new oversight committee to help address infighting among board members and to enforce standards of conduct.

The new committee was recommended by auditors who said internal disagreements and accusations by members of the board contribute to the “appearance of a toxic environment” at the Public Employees Retirement Association of New Mexico.

Auditors at REDW presented their finding to the board during a meeting last week.

They highlighted two instances in which PERA board members walked out of meetings to prevent the agency from being able to take action. The auditors also noted multiple instances of board members engaging in public “accusations and negative commentary” in violation of board policies requiring members to act with integrity and dignity.

REDW didn’t single out any particular board member for criticism.

Board Chairman John Melia, an Albuquerque firefighter, said he intends to establish the oversight committee recommended by auditors.

“Some of these issues,” Melia told his colleagues last week, “they’ve gone on so long they seem normal to the board now, and they’re not normal. They’re not OK.”

Auditors recommended the creation of an oversight committee to ensure board members comply with the agency’s policies and procedures. Repeated violations, the auditors said, could be addressed by sanctioning or removing board members who don’t follow the rules.

One repeated problem, they said, is board members who continue to argue about something even after the board as a whole has already voted on the issue and is ready to take up new business.

At last Thursday’s meeting, board member Loretta Naranjo Lopez, a retired city planner, immediately questioned whether the audit was biased and asked for an investigation into how the board crafted its formal response to the report.

She called parts of the report “false and misleading.”

But others praised the auditors’ work.

Board member Lawrence Davis, an Albuquerque budget official, said it was time to fix the governance problems flagged by auditors.

“It’s not easy hearing how dysfunctional we really are,” he said.

The REDW report isn’t the first time auditors have flagged the conduct of board members.

State Auditor Brian Colón slammed the board’s behavior last year as “unacceptable.” In particular, he said, the board had failed to submit the agency’s budget by a legal deadline.

PERA operates the pension systems for a variety of state and local government employees. A separate pension fund covers educators.

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