SEANC hiring outside reviewer of pension system

Posted January 6, 2014 7:16 p.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2014 4:37 p.m. EST

— An organization representing tens of thousands of North Carolina state workers says it has hired an outside company to scrutinize the employee pension system after a similar review raised questions about potential conflicts from several years ago.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina announced Monday that it has asked Benchmark Financial Services to examine the Teachers and State Employees Retirement System in several areas.

"We know that we're spending an exorbitant amount in fees. The wolves of Wall Street are circling around. There's no question about that," said Ardis Watkins, director of legislative affairs for SEANC. "The only prudent thing to do here is to look at the system and make sure that we protect our members' interest."

A law firm hired by state attorneys released last month a report looking at transactions involving nine investment firms while Richard Moore was state treasurer. Many transactions were related to placement agents, which are hired by firms looking to manage pension system money.

Current Treasurer Janet Cowell has restricted agents while expanding ethics rules since taking the job in 2009.

Schorr Johnson, a spokesman for the Treasurer's Office, said no one has ever found fault with the way Cowell handles the state pension funds.

"There have been four independent reviews of our pension fund's practices since 2009, and none has found any conduct of concern during Treasurer Cowell’s term in office," Johnson said in an email to WRAL News.

Still, he said, Cowell plans to appoint an outside panel to provide "an independent and objective assessment of the governance structure for the state's investments" and to make recommendations to lawmakers.