Detroit Pension Fund Managers Hit the Beaches in Hawaii

I saw this story a week or so ago on Drudge when it was first revealed that Detroit city pension funds managers were going to spend $22,000 to attend a conference in Hawaii. I thought that now it's revealed, they wouldn't dare go through with it.

Never underestimate the callousness of a bureaucrat:

The city of Detroit may be facing a deepening financial crisis but that hasn't stopped four trustees of its public pension funds from spending $22,000 of retirement system funds to attend a conference in Hawaii this week.

The trip 4,500 miles west to a four-star resort on the world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu doesn't sit well with the top officials now running Detroit's finances under an emergency order from the state of Michigan. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has not ruled out a bankruptcy as the city struggles under a $15 billion debt burden, which is being strained further by its hefty pension obligations.

"It especially doesn't look good when you have city employees, police, firefighters having taken pay cuts," said Bill Nowling, spokesman for Orr. "Middle-class, blue-collar workers, their dream vacation when they retire may be a two-week trip to Hawaii - they don't associate Hawaii with a place you go to work."

The four trustees from Detroit were among hundreds of pension officials from around the country who traveled in the past week to Honolulu for the annual convention of the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems. Nowling said that Orr's team did not think they had the power to prevent the trip.

John Riehl, a senior sewage plant operator and 34-year Detroit employee, is one of the four. The cost fell within continuing education guidelines set by the legislature, he said.

"It's one of these things we trustees must do to stay on top of the field," Riehl said. "It's important that we participate in these conferences. The stakes are too high."

Of the three other trustees from Detroit, one declined to comment and two others could not be reached for comment.

I call bull crap. And anyone who has ever been to one of these conventions knows the score.

Sure, you can attend several workshops and panels, and listen to lunch and dinner speakers -- if you're conscientious and feel responsible to the city and its taxpayers to really try and get something worthy out of the conference.

But that would far be the exception rather than the rule. If they really wanted to educate their members, they would hold the convention in Rapid City, Council Bluffs, or maybe even Washington, D.C. -- any place where the distractions would be kept to a minimum.

But the whole point of the convention is it being a distraction. It's a perk of office -- a reward for time served or perhaps a job well done. To insult the intelligence of the people of Detroit by claiming you have to fly 4500 miles and spend $22,000 that the city doesn't have in order to better educate the fund managers is outrageous.

Did the Detroit managers have to attend?

Some funds boycotted the event, saying it sent the wrong message, particularly at a time when many pension systems face funding shortfalls and the finances of the cities and states that sponsor them remain on shaky ground.

Evidently, not everyone thought it was something the trustees "must do to stay on top of the field."