O'Malley is urging tighter pension board travel rules

May 04, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday he would consider supporting City Council legislation to tighten travel restrictions for members of the city's pension board, especially when it comes to overseas trips.

"They would be well advised to tighten up their rules governing the travel of board members," O'Malley said. "It's one thing to jump on Amtrak to go to New York City. It's quite another to do foreign travel."

O'Malley's comments came in response to questions about the seven-member pension board's travel, first reported in The Examiner, that has included trips to Paris and Monte Carlo for what board members have called educational conferences.

No legislation is pending before the City Council on the matter, but O'Malley said he could support an ordinance if the board does not make changes on its own. The fund, which covers city employees, has more than 19,000 active and retired members and about $1.3 billion in net assets, according to its most recent annual report.

"Those sorts of things rightly draw a lot of public scrutiny," O'Malley said. "I think they would be well advised to adopt tighter and better rules. If they can't do it, I'm sure the City Council would want to do it for them."

In response, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, the pension board's chairwoman, said the board might consider making changes to its travel policy, but she also said the trips are necessary to let board members learn about international investment.

"We're trying to get the best return for the retirees," said Pratt, who has tussled with O'Malley on a number of issues this year. "Educational seminars are necessary and should be mandatory for trustees because of their fiduciary responsibility."

Educational expenses, including travel, totaled $58,322 last year - a figure that outside public pension experts said is not out of line for a fund of Baltimore's size. However, some have raised questions about the way travel is approved: Though members are not compensated, each receives a $10,000 educational stipend.

Travel money in Baltimore, pension officials have said, comes from the fund's investment income, not from taxes.

Still, the appearance of conflict was enough to prompt Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. to call for hearings.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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