After 1% Return, CalPERS Employees Picnic On

On Wednesday I was in Sacramento talking to state workers and others about public employee pensions and calls for reforming the system when I stumbled upon a group of 75 or so California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) employees in the middle of a “team-building” baseball game and picnic in Sacramento’s Land Park.

It was the middle of a work day, and when the participants realized a reporter was in their midst, well let’s just say there was a lot of uneaten potato salad as chairs were quickly folded up and the players scattered. You can’t blame them for not wanting to talk about the game. State employees – all employees really – are trained to refer media queries to the professionals.

One worker, however, did tell me they were on “work time,” which might be construed as being on the taxpayers’ dime. So later I asked CalPERS media rep Brad Pacheco if it didn’t look bad – given all the layoffs and budget cuts at all levels of government, not to mention the economic suffering of so many in California – for state workers to be high-fiving at a ball game and picnic in the middle of a work day.

“This was not paid for by the system,” he said. “It was their lunch hour plus administrative time granted by managers to recognize the division’s achievements.” Pacheco said these accomplishments include a pilot project resulting in 95% of the office supplies for their division being purchased by small businesses, and the introduction of a smaller envelope that saved CalPERS money on postage.

As for the mid-day time off, Pacheco was unapologetic. “It’s sad that the focus on public employees has come to the point where we have to defend a two-hour recognition picnic that occurs once a year.” Pacheco noted that these workers were support staff — folks who operate the mail room, copy documents, etc. — not portfolio managers.

Speaking of those portfolio managers – hopefully they were back in the office. On Monday CalPERS reported a paltry 1 percent return on investments in the fiscal year ending June 30. The weak performance of the $234 billion portfolio is terrible news for state and local governments already struggling to maintain their contributions to employee retirement funds.

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  • Penryn Resident

    I wonder how it is if you were in Sacramento to talk to state workers that you stumbled across Williamland Park near the Sacramento Zoo. From my remedial recollection, there are no state agencies at Williamland Park. I’m also not aware of any business in the park or the zoo that would really be a target for such a discussion. So what were you doing at the park? Maybe you just decided to visit the chimpanzees. Brad Pacheco is right. It is a shame that the focus on public employees has come to this. Tell me KQED and many, many business across this land of ours don’t also have employee picnics, holiday parties, etc. For you to insinuate that this department was wasting tax payer money, or that CalPERS’ investment results might be better if they didn’t have a picnic is, to be blunt, ignorant. If I was KQED, I would fire you for even considering to publish such a worthwhile story. Speaking of those portfolio managers, do tell how your portfolios have performed recently. I’m sure you have the answers for making better investment choices in the market climate they currently operate in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.hedin.12 Michael Hedin

    Hey Scotty, great investigative reporting, i bet your boss was real proud of this remarkable piece of “NEWS.” Keep up the hard work, which park will you be at tmrw, maybe you can stop by Tahoe park and talk to some CalSTRS employees…Bahahahahahahahaha!

  • semitech

    There’s nothing in this article that supports the innuendo in the headline title that State employees were doing anything improper. It’s disappointing: we expect real journalism from KQED, not this misleading fluff piece. Shafer ignores the real story here: the extreme under-performance of CalPERS (and other retirement funds as well). The implications of this shortfall in investment returns is the true, and disturbing, story. Scott, you missed it.

Author

Scott Shafer

Scott migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government. Now he covers those things and more as host of the California Report and Senior Correspondent for KQED Newsroom. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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