Turnover in government isn't at all unusual, especially with term limits in place for a variety of positions.
We know people who are fervent supporters of term limits, embracing the opportunity to throw the bums out on a regular basis and to bring in a new set of bums — or, as they like to say, a fresh set of eyes.
There's value in that new blood, of course, but there's also real value in experience, in doing what we can to preserve institutional knowledge.
In that light, it was troubling to read a recent report in The Oregonian about some major turnover occurring this year in the state's troubled public pension system.
Steve Rodeman, the longtime executive director of the Public Employees Retirement System, is planning to retire on June 1. Rodeman has been at the helm of the agency since 2014; before that, he served as the PERS deputy director and had racked up more than a decade of experience with the agency.
Rodeman replaced Paul Cleary, who served 10 years as director before he retired. So the agency has had a relatively lengthy stretch of stability at the top — and, perhaps more important, it has gained the reputation among legislators and state officials of being "an honest fact broker," in the words of a Portland lawyer quoted by The Oregonian. "There's no spin," the lawyer, Greg Hartman, added. "It's just the facts, in a situation where everything is contentious."
A member of Gov. Kate Brown's staff told the newspaper that the open position had attracted about a half-dozen applicants. But the staffer admitted it was likely that whoever was hired to run the agency would face a learning curve.
And this is a particularly bad time for the executive director of PERS to be starting at the bottom of a learning curve: The chair of the PERS board, John Thomas, will be leaving his position when his term expires later this year; term limits are forcing him to leave the board after six years of service. Another member, Krystal DeAsis, may be leaving the board when her term expires in September; she has not yet said if she'll serve another term.
Thomas and DeAsis are the two longest-serving members of the five-member board. They also are two of the three members on the board with no financial connection to the system.
Oregon law is specific about who can serve on the PERS board: The three members with no financial connection to the system must have experience in business management, pension management or investment. A fourth member must be either an employee of the state in a management position or a person who holds an elective office in the governing body of a participating public employer other than the state. The fifth member must represent public employees and retirees. That specificity is a good thing, but it doesn't make the governor's task in finding replacements any easier; in fact, Brown's first choice for the board eventually decided that he didn't want the appointment.
It's hard to blame him: The state's public pension system is struggling with a $22 billion unfunded liability. That deficit is triggering big increases in the premiums that the state's various governmental entities will have to pay. Those increases likely will force painful cuts in services.
After years of whistling past this particular graveyard, the governor and legislators over the last few months have started to pursue some small reforms in the system; those efforts likely will continue in the 2019 legislative session, although it's increasingly clear that no single solution will fix all of the system's woes.
Even without this brain drain, PERS represents one of the most difficult problems facing the state. Now, in an unwelcome twist of events, it's about to become just a little more difficult. (mm)