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Saturday, September 10, 2011

One of Wheeler's Masters of the Universe moves on

The chief investment officer at the Oregon State Treasury, Ron Schmitz, has taken a new job with the government employees' pension plan in Virginia. The move comes a few months after Schmitz and two other investment officers were reprimanded for violating state government ethics rules regarding perks they received from investment advisors that they were charged with overseeing. The other two were also sanctioned over "reimbursements" they obtained from the state for meal expenses that they themselves never paid.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler's press release notes: "Under the leadership of Schmitz, investments in the Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund posted returns that rank among the highest in the nation, according to the independent Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service. Over the seven years ending in 2010, Oregon’s performance was in the top 3 percent in the nation." Ted Sickinger's story in the O tells the rest of the story: "Schmitz, along with his fellow investment officers at Treasury, are some of the best-paid public employees in the state. His base salary is more than $265,000 a year, and he earned well over $300,000 in 2010 with incentive pay based on the performance of the pension fund's investments."

Wheeler defended Schmitz and his colleagues tenaciously for many months, with the treasurer finally caving in to pressure to admit that his office's policies on travel and entertainment allowances needed major work. It will be interesting to see if he complains that needless public scrutiny of the practices drove Schmitz out of the state.

In any event, the move was announced at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon (of course) in order to minimize public notice. Schmitz will be on the payroll through October.

Comments (13)

That's pretty funny for a bureaucrat to get a high five for money managing style that didn't have any "spending" contraints.

I wonder how many other unethical half wits could have brought that level of return merely by accident? Which is what it appears Ron did while lavishing himself in mounds of unearned riches from the Kingdom ruled over.

Perhaps I am too cynical. Say it aint so.

But I may be too harsh. He could be a swell guy who did an outstanding job and deserves thanks from us all.

If Mr. Wheeler spent as much time and energy on getting us a state bank as he did on trying to justify what these guys did, we might have an economy more like North Dakotas and less like Michigans.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what compels a guy like Wheeler to buy into the investment magic mojo scam. If you put every one of those guys for all the states ranked into a room without name tags, you wouldn't find a dimes worth of difference between the guy at the bottom and the guy at the top.

One of the reasons Wheeler may "...buy into the investment magic mojo scam..." is that he grew up with it. Isn't the pile of inherited Wheeler family money privately managed?

It was announced at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon in hopes Bojack would miss it.

If he were any good, he'd be making $4 to $10 million per year on Wall Street or with a boutique firm.

No doubt he washed out of a bigger position in the private sector before he joined the public sector.

Those that can, do. Those that can't, work for a public pension fund.

A bigger piggie trough no doubt!

Don't yell at me, but do you know what top portfolio manageres on Wall Street make?

Wheeler could just turn over the portfolio to some investment houses without supervision to save the money, but if he does truly get a top 3% return, then he's probably worth the pay. A percentage point of return can mean a $1B difference.

Would be nice if Wheeler would reform Oregon College Savings Plan so folks could set up their own self directed state tax free education accounts, much like the Roth IRA concept. Instead, Oregon government picks a couple of fee based funds to take the College Savings monies, limiting choice and raising expenses. This leads to too much good old boy type management of College savings.

Oregon college savings plan I'd say is no great shakes. Better to just keep control of your kids' college monies yourself.

"Oregon college savings plan I'd say is no great shakes. Better to just keep control of your kids' college monies yourself."

That's the understatement of the month, Ben.

Bob - It's an interesting idea you put forward. Are you aware of any similar models in other state's I could take a look at? Thx, Ted.

PS - George - I sponsored the bill around creating a "Virtual State Bank" (I regret the title, in retrospect) and built a coalition that included the Working Families Party, Credit Unions, OBA, legislators of both parties, consumer activists and others. I worked very hard on it and hope to see you in the room next time there is a need for public input. You will show up, right?

I actually had faith that Mr. Wheeler would be a responsible addition to our state government. But then I live in Multnomah County where even Leo Trotsky would seem mainstream.....

So I came back to see if Bob responded yet, but I guess not.

Jack, just a minor correction - I did in fact overhaul substantial parts of the treasury travel policies and internal controls, as well as reporting requirements, very early in my administration. If there was "public pressure" at that point I wasn't too aware of it other than the Oregonian stories outlining some of the obvious flaws in prior treasury policy. I did, however, wait for an advisory group I had asked to review all practices to conclude their work before finalizing other changes to the reimbursement policy.

Bob - not sure if you will get this, but I did some research and wanted to get back to you. It turns out the Treasury did look at an "open architecture" plan a couple of years ago where you would be able to direct your college savings to any one of several hundred mutual funds. The problem was it was very difficult to identify a "Third Party Administrator" who would be willing to coordinate the reporting required by the federal government. The total cost of the plan would have been about 150 basis points, compared to our current plans which either have total fees of about 25 basis points (for the self-directed options through TIA CREFF), or zero fees (through the MFS advisor-directed plan). Between the federal regulations governing 529 savings plans and the cost consideration, it was deemed not feasible. Sincerely, Ted Wheeler.

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