Treasurer rails against proposed pension changes

BY STACI WILSON

County Treasurer Catherine Benedict railed against proposed changes to the pension plan that she says puts the county back in the position it was in when the pension lost $8 million dollars.

Benedict, along with the three commissioners and Chief Clerk Sylvia Beamer, sit on the county retirement board.

The five proposed changes to the pension plan were tabled by the board after Benedict called the moves into question at the July 11 meeting.

The treasurer said that with the proposed investment adviser contract with Brinker Capital, the county would be relinquishing its fiduciary responsibility over the fund.

Benedict said the contract would allow to firm to “move money to suit them” and could lead to additional management fees charged to the county.

She claimed the fees assessed by Brinker could be higher than what the county had been paying to the Seneca Group. The county terminated its relationship with Seneca in February at a pension board meeting Benedict was not able to attend.

Tom Wilson, of Brinker, said the contract would only allow the firm to move money around only within the pension board’s investment policy statement. He said Brinker’s discretion would allow the firm to peak the county portfolio’s earnings.Wilsonalso did not agree with Benedict’s claim that the fees charged by Brinker would be higher.

“I don’t agree with any of it. This contract is just plain wrong,” Benedict said. “I have not worked for the county for the past 20 years, saving people money, to see this happen again.”

Benedict also questioned fellow board members about the proposed changes to the pension plan.

“Who filled out the investment questionnaire?” she asked.

Commissioner Michael Giangrieco said, “Everybody did it.”

“When did this happen?” Benedict countered.

Giangrieco answered, “Months ago.”

She also questioned why the board voted to terminate a consultant that “consistently made money over the past 10 years.”

Benedict also said the timeframe she was given to review the proposed contracts was limited.

“(The contracts) sat on the solicitor’s desk for three weeks. We only had them for 1-1/2 weeks. One of these (contracts) is 29 pages long.”

“I’ve got a lot more questions,” Benedict said.

Commissioner MaryAnn Warren motioned to table the agenda items for two weeks.

“I have more questions but don’t have them defined right now,”Warrensaid.

Audience member Bruce Paskoff thanked Benedict “for being a strong advocate for the citizens of this county.”

His comment was met with a round of applause from the standing room only crowd gathered in the commissioners’ meeting room in the courthouse.

Tabled by the board included the following agenda items:

*appointing Reliance Trust Company to act as trustee with respect to the Susquehanna County Employees’ Retirement Plan, effective immediately; and to terminate Marshall & Isley Trust Company as trustee, effective Oct. 1.

*to notify Marshall & Isley in writing that the county is terminating their services, effective Oct. 1.

*appoint Fidelity Investments, ofBoston, as Custodian of the employees’ retirement plan.

*appoint Brink Capital,Berwyn, as the Investment Advisers of the county retirement plan.

*signing contracts regarding the pension fund with Brinker Capital, Fidelity Investments and Reliance Trust.