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Oregonian: Treasurer Calls for Reform of . . . Treasurer's Office
Submitted by info on Wed, 04/21/2010 - 04:07
Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler calls for travel audit, agency reform
by Les Zaitz and Ted Sickinger
April 14, 2010
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler stepped up his efforts Wednesday to reform his agency in the wake of disclosures that employees have been traveling in luxury at the expense of the investment firms they oversee.
Wheeler has asked Secretary of State Kate Brown to evaluate travel undertaken last year by state investment officers.
He also said he will appoint a citizens panel to review the agency's travel policies and recommend changes. He said he would then ask the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to endorse a new travel policy.
"Oregonians have been well-served by the expertise of the state's investment officers, but Oregonians also have a right to expect that travel will be focused on business," Wheeler said.
His actions came four days after The Oregonian disclosed that state investment officers have been traveling to resorts, flying first class and dining at high-caliber restaurants. Much of the cost has been picked up by investment firms managing Oregon's investments.
Treasury officials had defended the travel, saying it was necessary to properly manage $67billion invested in real estate, stocks and privately held firms. They said the travel was arranged by the investment firms and was the same as offered to other investors participating in oversight meetings.
The cost of that travel is largely undisclosed, although the Treasury pays fees to the investment firms in part to fund such travel. Investment firms refused to disclose costs to The Oregonian, and Treasury officials said the information was confidential under their agreements with the firms.
State investment officers, who earned an average of just under $200,000 last year, travel about once a year to headquarters of the investment managers holding Oregon's investments. The officers also travel to serve on private advisory boards that monitor specific investment partnerships.
Treasury officials said 13 investment officers logged about 500,000 miles last year on 110 trips, from San Francisco to New York, and from London to Hong Kong.
Wheeler's announcement Wednesday came a week after he took earlier steps when he learned some results of The Oregonian's investigation. He ended first-class air travel at public expense and stopped state investment officers from accepting golf and other entertainment. They must now pay for such perks out of their own pockets, Wheeler said. The agency said investment officers played in three hosted golf outings in 2009.
He also directed Deputy State Treasurer Darren Bond to review the agency's travel policies and report back by June 1. That will include a comparison to rules in place in other states.
Don Hamilton, spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said the state Audits Division will be tasked to review Treasury's travel records from last year to find out whether employees followed the agency's travel rules. He said the process was less intensive than a full audit.
Ron Bersin, Ethics Commission executive director, said that under a 2007 law, state agencies can seek endorsement of their policies from the commission. Bersin said the proposed policies must comply with state ethics law.
Once the ethics commission approves the proposed policy, agency employees "would be offered safe haven" from ethics complaints stemming from following that policy, Bersin said.
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