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Public pension employees skip Hawaii conference

By Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:33 a.m. HST, May 21, 2013



Organizers of an annual conference for people who manage more than $3 trillion in public sector pension funds in the U.S. and Canada say a significant number of administrators are skipping this year's meeting in Hawaii to avoid the perception they're wasting money by heading to the island paradise.

Roughly 650 people are coming to this year's weeklong National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, compared with about 1,000 attendees at last year's meeting in New York, executive director Hank Kim said Monday.

Kim says trustees and others from around the country are thinking about "headline risk" — how the trip may be perceived back home.

"They know that economically it makes sense. They realize that this headline risk is silly, but it's something that if they felt they could avoid it, they would avoid the headline risk," Kim told reporters Monday after the conference opened in a ballroom at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, the most popular area for tourists in the state.

The conference represents more than 550 funds in the United States and Canada.

Funds throughout the country have received close scrutiny and criticism from some public officials and news outlets for considering a Hawaii trip at a time when public pension systems are greatly underfunded.

Among those who skipped this year's conference are administrators of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions and the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio.

Beverly Woolridge, chairwoman of the Ohio school pension system's board of trustees, said in a statement last month that the travel issue had become a "major distraction."

The Detroit Free Press reported last week that records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showed four trustees from two funds planned to spend $22,000 to take the trip. In response, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is researching whether some of the pension trustees should be fired, the newspaper reported.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie defended Hawaii in remarks to open the conference, saying Honolulu is as legitimate a host as any other U.S. city.

"Unfunded liabilities are crippling state and local governments across the country," Abercrombie said. "This is serious business, and Hawaii is a place where serious business is being done, will be done and has been done. I can assure you that."

Abercrombie took on the issue directly during this year's legislative session in Hawaii, asking for at least $200 million over the next two years to draw down the state's unfunded liabilities for employee and retiree health benefits. Lawmakers exceeded his request and set aside $217 million over two years.

The governor told reporters after his speech Monday that Honolulu is economically competitive and that the criticism over the gathering has more to do with Hawaii's reputation as a beach destination than cost comparisons with meetings in other cities.

"It's kind of ironic that because people like the location of Hawaii so much that it becomes an opportunity for some people to say, 'You shouldn't go there,'" Abercrombie said. "I don't think it carries much weight."

Kim said the organization received no criticism last year for holding its meeting in New York, where he said the conference hotel-room rate was significantly higher than this year. Kim said last year's conference cost roughly $1.5 million, while this year's is less than $1 million.

Average hotel prices in Honolulu were $209 per night in 2012, according to an annual Hotel Price Index by Hotels.com that ranked Honolulu as the second most expensive U.S. city for hotels in the country behind New York.

Mel Aaronson, the conference's president, said the meeting is designed to educate trustees and others on new investment strategies, the potential effects of globalization and fiduciary responsibility.







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allie wrote:
I agree with neil.
on May 20,2013 | 01:30PM
Ronin006 wrote:
I disagree with Neil. It is true that Honolulu is as legitimate a host as any other U.S. city, but the issue is the costs to send delegates to the conference in Honolulu compared to many mainland destinations to which delegates can travel for a fraction of the cost of coming all the way to Hawaii. Location does not in any way diminish the meeting’s purpose or substance; it simply is a matter of cost.
on May 20,2013 | 03:08PM
Ronin006 wrote:
I disagree. Honolulu may be as legitimate a host as any other U.S. city, but the cost of sending attendees here is more than double the cost of having the meeting in a less-than-glamorous location on the mainland.
on May 20,2013 | 06:02PM
localguy wrote:
Using the same logic, no one would go to any conference in any city but cities within that state. Must avoid the perception of wasting public money. Give us a break. So we can't go to cities like Los Angeles/Anaheim/Orlando - Disneyland effect, Las Vegas - No need to explain, on and on and on.
on May 20,2013 | 01:45PM
serious wrote:
It's the Democratic system. Spend money to save money. Remember when, what's his name was running under Change and he pointed out the corporations that were wasting money for conventions in Las Vegas? Then HIS GSA spent $800,000 of taxpayer money there??? Yeah, Bush did it!!!!
on May 20,2013 | 02:21PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
i think it was obama's secret service that was traipsing with prostitutes in columbia.
on May 21,2013 | 05:01AM
EducatedLocalBoy wrote:
Now if we could just get the State of Hawaii Retirement System Trustees from going on neighbor island junkets where they hold meetings and make important decisions where most of the retired beneficiaries can't afford to go, we'd be in good shape.
on May 20,2013 | 02:53PM
Ronin006 wrote:
This comment was sent for approval: “I disagree with Neil. It is true that Honolulu is as legitimate a host as any other U.S. city, but the issue is the costs to send delegates to the conference in Honolulu compared to many mainland destinations to which delegates can travel for a fraction of the cost of coming all the way to Hawaii. Location does not in any way diminish the meeting’s purpose or substance; it simply is a matter of cost.” Can someone explain why?
on May 20,2013 | 03:17PM
iwanaknow wrote:
A lot of political posing here, don't you think?.....they should have done this in Hawaii's slow season, the Spring or Fall. Or everything put on the net or skype so those who can't go physical still could be there electronically.............what an idea..........save money!
on May 20,2013 | 03:41PM
frontman wrote:
They won't miss an expensive show like this. They will just enter through the back door and wear mustaches, even the women.
on May 20,2013 | 05:52PM
HD36 wrote:
Let's offer free food for the homeless in front of the Convention Center.
on May 20,2013 | 08:39PM
fstop wrote:
"Abercrombie took on the issue directly during this year's legislative session in Hawaii, asking for at least $200 million over the next two years to draw down the state's unfunded liabilities for employee and retiree health benefits. Lawmakers exceeded his request and set aside $217 million over two years."

And $217 million is still far less than the annual $500 million estimated to avoid increases in Hawaii's unfunded pension liability.


on May 21,2013 | 01:59AM
peanutgallery wrote:
It's what Democrats do: they waste money, and grow government so they can waste more money.
on May 21,2013 | 03:18AM
paradiddle wrote:
Sorry, I disagree with the Gov and the conference president. While Hawaii is a legitimate host, the costs to come here is not a prudent fiscal decision. A conference in Hawaii is designated as a "prime" conference location and should be for organizations who can afford the price. It is usually utilized as a "prize/reward" tool for top performers. While the tourism industry and for profit conference organizers will disagree, Hawaii or other exotic locations (i.e. Bahamas, Virgin Islands) should not be on the agenda for non-profit and government entities. It is simply a waste of members/taxpayer's money.
on May 21,2013 | 03:45AM
bender wrote:
That just about sums it up. I remember my stepfather winning trips to Hawaii for selling over 100 vacuums in a month in the 60's and that was a reward for him and every other salesman for that company who made the goal. State and federal government bureaucrats do not need rewarding trips to perform their job. And it's not a perceiption, it's a fact that people get mad when they see administrators flying off on junkets while the retirement fund is suffering.
on May 21,2013 | 05:48AM
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