California's public pension crisis is bad and getting worse

California's two major public pension systems are underfunded and are asking local governments to pay more. Critics want to reduce benefits, while others say policymakers should allow time for recent changes to take hold.
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California's two major public pension systems are underfunded and are asking local governments to pay more. Critics want to reduce benefits, while others say policymakers should allow time for recent changes to take hold.
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The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

The State Worker

In an upset, a CalPERS critic wins a seat on the pension board

By Adam Ashton

aashton@sacbee.com

December 12, 2017 04:15 PM

The board that governs the country’s largest public pension fund will get one of its outspoken critics as one of its new members.

Margaret Brown, a Southern California school district administrator, unseated incumbent Michael Bilbrey in a runoff election to win a seat on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration.

Her victory on Tuesday marks an upset over Bilbrey, who had the backing of nearly every state public employee union and a well-funded campaign account. Unions contributed more than $150,000 to help him retain his seat while also touting him in newsletters to their members.

Brown cast herself as a CalPERS watchdog during her campaign, pledging to hold the pension fund’s professional staff accountable for its performance.

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“Because of your unwavering support, I have won the (CalPERS seat),” Brown wrote on her website. “With your continued help, we will begin the changes that are needed at CalPERS.”

She received 77,969 votes to Bilbrey’s 69,123, CalPERS reported.

“We tried our best but it was not meant to be,” Bilbrey, a manager at the Citrus College bookstore in Glendora, wrote on Facebook.

CalPERS is a $346 billion pension fund that manages benefits for 1.8 million public employees and retirees. It’s governed by a 13-member board of administration, with six elected members and seven who are appointed or placed there because of their positions in state government.

Brown is the facilities director for the Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange County. She began attending CalPERS meetings this fall, where she questioned the board’s commitment to transparency.

She was endorsed by outgoing CalPERS board member J.J. Jelincic, California State Retirees and a Riverside County police union that has urged CalPERS to boost returns and avoid divestment campaigns that would have it pull money out of politically unpopular industries.

Bilbrey’s campaign highlighted a set of four settlements that one of Brown’s past employers paid to close hostile workplace claims that named her.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.