Among the nuggets in a state auditor's report issued yesterday of the Retirement Commission is one that leaps out in showing the contempt for public funds that members of the panel must have.
At some point, tthe commission held meetings in Hartford in the morning and again in the afternoon on the same day. Its members, collectively, get $2,900 in per diem to pay for their time and travel.
What pushed this one over the edge is that the commissioners agreed to give themselves a per diem payment for the morning session and then an entirely separate per diem for the afternoon.
So instead of costing the state $2,900, the day socked state funds for $5,800.
That's so brazen that it raises all sorts of questions about the attitude of the commission toward the money they're supposed to preserve and enhance.
Some of the shenanigans the auditors found with the panel's air travel only make the situation seem more dire for taxpayers.
Here's one section of the long report that bears scrutiny:
The chairman and the actuarial trustees of the Retirement Commission have billed the State Employees’ Retirement Fund with two per diem payments for the same day, as well as air travel and hotel costs in excess of what is customary and reasonable for travel on State business.
Some excessive charges noted by our audit were:
• The payment of two separate per diem payments of $2,900 each, applicable to morning and afternoon Retirement Commission meetings held on the same day.
• The payment of $944 for round trip airfare that customarily costs $350 to $400 for State employees.
• The payment for two round-trip airfares to attend a single meeting, one to cover the travel from Orlando, Florida to the member’s hometown area in New Jersey, then a second from New Jersey to Connecticut to attend the Commission’s meeting. The total cost of airfare was $1,043. In addition, reimbursement was made for $284 for the cost for a single night of airport lodging prior to the trustee’s departure from New Jersey to Connecticut.
• Incurring of $2,198 in travel-related costs relative to two special meetings, each of which lasted less than two hours in duration, rather than choosing to attend via teleconference.
Total per diem and travel costs paid from the State Employees’ Retirement Fund, which was approved by the Commission, totaled $229,187 for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.
Effect: The State Employees’ Retirement Fund is charged with administrative costs in excess of what is generally considered reasonable for governmental service.
Cause: State travel regulations controlling travel expenditures were not made applicable to the Retirement Commission. The definition of "normal and usual per diem fee, plus travel expenses" was never established at the time the chairman and actuarial trustees were originally appointed. The Commission as a body approves the per diem and travel expenditures of its own members. The Commission does not routinely employ teleconferencing as a method to save the time and travel costs of Commission members.
Recommendation: The Connecticut State Employees Retirement Commission should adopt, or otherwise implement, regulations to effect the limitation of costs related to trustees’ overnight lodging and travel that are commensurate with the reimbursement amounts set forth in the State Travel Regulations. (See Recommendation 4.)
Agency Response: "With regard to this finding there is an important distinction between the State Retirement Commission proper (the "Commission") and the Retirement and Benefit Services Division ("Division"). The Division is responding to this finding as the Agency; however, the Division has limited, if any, authority over the Commission with regard to its approval of travel expenses for Commission members or, in the alternative, implementation of regulations governing such travel and expenses. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 5-155a, any such authority is placed squarely on the Commission. Saying that, the Director has met with the Chair of the Commission and the two actuaries to discuss the concerns expressed in this finding and to recommend to the actuaries to use the government established rate for their hotel stays and airfare. Additionally, the Division will recommend to the Regulation Subcommittee of the Commission that it meet and promulgate criteria for the reimbursement of "per diems" and travel expenses for Commission members since there appears to be no State guidelines that apply to non-employee Commission members."
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