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Endorsement: Leyne Milstein is clearly the best choice for CalPERS board

It’s an election that only a select group will decide, but its outcome is crucial to taxpayers across California – as a key decision last week on pensions demonstrates.

In the race for the local public agency seat on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System board, the best choice is crystal clear. Leyne Milstein, the city of Sacramento’s finance director since 2008, is well suited for the post, which represents and is chosen by about 247,500 CalPERS members who work for cities, counties and special districts.

Ballots will be mailed Friday and are due back by Sept. 29 in that race and a second race among three candidates for an open seat representing 255,000 state employees. They are two of the six elected spots on the 13-member board.

Milstein has been on the front lines of trying to make California’s public pension system sustainable. She and other top Sacramento officials have started pension reform, finally getting employees to pay their share into CalPERS.

In an interview, she said she offers the perspective of an employee who wants her pension to be there when she retires, but also of a manager who wants to make sure local governments can make their CalPERS payments without resorting to layoffs or slashing services to residents. If elected, Milstein says, she would challenge the board on issues such as fees it is paying and whether simpler investments might bring bigger returns.

That background and perspective make Milstein a stronger choice than Priya Sara Mathur, who has been on the CalPERS board since 2003, is the current vice chairwoman and is seeking a fourth four-year term.

In an email response and in her candidate statement, Mathur touts her experience, saying she helped steer the pension fund through two market downturns and has a “strong record” of fighting for quality health care and retirement security for CalPERS members. She vows to defend pensions against “political and ideological attacks.”

But Mathur, a principal financial analyst for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, was part of the 7-5 majority that voted last week to count more than 100 kinds of supplemental and temporary pay in calculating pensions for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown rightly said the action undermined what passed as pension reform two years ago. Milstein said she would have voted against it.

In addition, Mathur has repeatedly failed to file her own financial paperwork on time. Last week, the state Fair Political Practices Commission refused to accept the $1,000 fine she had agreed to pay for being late in submitting four campaign finance reports for her re-election bid. Commissioners said she should pay a higher penalty because she has already been docked a total of $13,000 for violations in 2006 and 2010. While Mathur calls them inadvertent mistakes, they raise serious doubts about her fitness for a post that helps oversee $291 billion in assets.

Mathur, however, boasts the support of SEIU, AFSCME and other major public employee unions.

CalPERS members need to look beyond the endorsements and recognize that they’re taxpayers, too. They should think about who is more likely to help preserve their benefits and their jobs – and keep their employers in business.

It’s Milstein.