August 18, 2006

Does the state's man with his hand on the till also keep a hand on the tiller? If we look at Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's record of failing to show up for meetings of the state pension system's Investment Committee, we'd have to say that his grip is a little loose.

As Maryland's top tax collector, Mr. Schaefer also sits as chief trustee of the State Retirement and Pension System and as a member of the panel that plays a key role in managing $34 billion in assets used to provide retirement, disability and death benefits for tens of thousands of former state employees. Mr. Schaefer has missed 11 of the last 18 meetings, according to committee minutes, and appears to be repeating a pattern of absenteeism he exhibited the first two years after he took office in 1999. To his credit, he appeared regularly when the pension system was in dire trouble.

The comptroller is not required to attend the meetings and, in his stead, sends his chief of staff, an able individual who some insiders whisper does a better job representing the interests of retirees than Mr. Schaefer could do. Issues that come before the Investment Committee can be drearily arcane and require a fastidious attention to monetary minutiae.

But the point is not whether Mr. Schaefer is good with numbers. Going to dull meetings happens to be part of his job - his predecessors certainly considered it part of theirs. He shouldn't pick and choose between what might be more suitable for a spot on the evening news - Board of Public Works meetings, for example, where he likes to opine about what's wrong with the world - and what might cause him to nod off.

This is an election year, and by most accounts he's in a tight primary race. Did he think nobody would know he wasn't showing up where he was supposed to? This much is true: His opponents noticed.

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