Margaret Brown’s last town hall meeting may have taken place this month, but the defeated CalPERS board member and pension critic is not going away quietly.
Brown, who calls herself a CalPERS watchdog, said she is forming a political action committee that will keep the focus on CalPERS and raise funds to support candidates for the board of directors of the retirement system.
His name: Your CalPERS watchdogs.
The plural reflects two other founding members of the organization. They are former board member JJ Jelincic and Tiffany Emon-Moran, a retired police department fraud investigator, who lost her candidacy to join the CalPERS board in October.
All three want CalPERS to speak more openly about issues that are often kept behind closed doors, such as how the pension fund intends to execute its plan to increase its stake in private equity investments.
Brown said his new organization would educate members and argue that CalPERS is taking too many risks in its investments. The fund, recently valued at $ 493 billion, must meet its profit targets or risk charging government agencies more for unfunded liabilities.
“It’s a retirement organization and we need to be more conservative,” she said.
Brown, Jelincic and Emmon-Moran’s new political action committee could hold contested elections in the years to come if they succeed in finding donors and candidates. The CalPERS Board of Directors consists of 13 members: six are elected by the members of CalPER, five are appointed by the Governor or the Legislative Assembly and two are elected officials, the State Treasurer and the Comptroller.
The new group brings together two former board members from Brown and Jelincic who often pose as outsiders. Each was reprimanded twice while sitting on the board.
Jelincic was censored in 2011 following a finding that he sexually harassed colleagues at the CalPERS investment bureau and again in 2017 following allegations that he leaked information to the media. Board chairmen berated Brown in 2018 after allowing a friend to enter a restricted area at the pension fund headquarters and in 2019 for her use of the CalPERS logo on social media.
Brown and Jelincic gained support from retiree and public safety groups who favored their sometimes contradictory style of questioning CalPERS policies, but lost support from other public service unions who concluded that Brown and Jelincic have created “chaos” for a pension fund that provides retirement benefits to around 2 million people.
SEIU California and a coalition of unions raised about $ 500,000 to defeat Brown and Emon-Moran. A similar coalition spent a lot to prevent Jelincic from returning to the CalPERS board in 2019, where he served from 2010 to 2018.
“If my members felt that (Brown) was actually the watchdog she claimed to be, she would have been re-elected,” said Terry Brennand, a lobbyist for SEIU California. “But it wasn’t.”
Bown was decisively defeated in the recent CalPERS election. Results revealed in October show that challenger Luis Pacheco received 61.76% against 38.24% for Brown.
Order paper at the pension council
Retirement system meetings sometimes seemed like soap operas with Brown stirring the pot.
She had ongoing conflicts with CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost.
Brown’s latest issue was CalPERS ‘refusal to allow the controversy over the resignation of former investment director Ben Meng to be discussed publicly in more detail. Meng resigned in August 2020 amid an ethics complaint against him. He alleged that he approved a billion dollar deal with a company in which he had a financial stake. CalPERS is still looking to fill her position.
Two months ago, Brown voted against Frost’s compensation for the fourth year in a row. The CalPERS Board of Directors approved Frost’s base salary of $ 534,689 and an incentive bonus of $ 143,590.
Brown cites his opposition to a plan to build a $ 550 million office building on vacant CalPERS-owned land at Third and Capital Mall as an example of his action.
CalPERS in 2007 when the real estate crash halted plans to build two 53-story towers on the site, the former home of the now-defunct Sacramento Union newspaper. This created a sore point between officials in the city of Sacramento, who wanted the site to be developed, and CalPERS, who had already lost around $ 60 million on the project.
Brown seized documents from CalPERS who hired real estate consultants which showed that it would be difficult to find office tenants for the revised project in 2018, which would make solid returns on investment speculative.
The building plan was then scratched. CalPERS ended up firing its development partner and is now working with a new manager to attempt to develop the vacant land.
“They may call me a troublemaker, but they don’t call me a liar,” she said. “And that’s the point. I may be a troublemaker. But I’ll tell the truth about what’s wrong with CalPERS.
Relations between Brown and the chairman of the board, Henry Jones, were particularly strained.
Jones suspended much of Brown’s travel reimbursements for the first half of 2020 meetings after saying she used the name CalPERS in her Twitter and Facebook account in a way that violated political ethics of State.
Brown sued in Sacramento County, claiming she was not involved in “identity theft.” She stated that she is running as a member of the CalPERS board in the accounts and not as a CalPERS organization.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit that year, saying Brown had not proven his case. CalPERS spent approximately $ 80,000 to defend the lawsuit.
Brown’s last CalPERS meeting
CalPERS board member Theresa Taylor, who had verbal clashes with Brown at open board sessions, said Brown was an addendum to the pension board because she was asking questions curious.
At the same time, Taylor said, Brown’s questioning style was often ‘catchy’, creating adversarial relationships with investment staff members.
Taylor said she and other board members often ask the same questions, but do so behind closed doors or in informal meetings, advocating for the best investment results.
“We always ask the questions,” Taylor said. “I think we ask them just a little differently than Margaret.”
For example, Taylor said Brown was not the only board member worried about private equity fees which have risen to more than $ 4 billion over the past two decades. She said private equity investment staff have been working to keep fees low.
At his last meeting, Brown received compliments from Neil Johnson, a CalPERS retiree and former representative of the Service Employees International Union Local 1000
“I didn’t always agree with the direction she was taking with some of her questions or her particular positions, but I liked her curiosity and her desire to dig,” he said.
Jelincic also congratulated her. “I want to commend you for maintaining your integrity,” he said. “You may have lost your seat, but you can still look at yourself in the mirror. “
At one point, Brown joined Board Chairman Jones for a farewell ceremony, and they partially kissed. She received a plaque and a board resolution thanking her for four years on the pension system board.
This story was originally published November 28, 2021 5:00 a.m.