The State Worker

CalPERS bites new watchdog at her second public meeting

Newly elected CalPERS Board of Administration member Margaret Brown was censured in March 2018 because she allegedly allowed a friend to use CalPERS equipment in a restricted area of the pension fund's headquarters. The friend scanned and e-mailed what appeared to be political fundraising documents.
Newly elected CalPERS Board of Administration member Margaret Brown was censured in March 2018 because she allegedly allowed a friend to use CalPERS equipment in a restricted area of the pension fund's headquarters. The friend scanned and e-mailed what appeared to be political fundraising documents. The Sacramento Bee

A school district administrator who pledged to be a watchdog on the board that manages the nation's largest public pension fund was censured before her second public meeting for allegedly allowing a friend to misuse government resources.

Margaret Brown was reprimanded by CalPERS Board of Administration President Priya Mathur because Brown last month allowed a guest into a restricted area of the CalPERS headquarters and the guest used CalPERS equipment for what appeared to be political activity.

Cecile Nunley, a former Vallejo Unified School District business manager and Brown's guest, used a CalPERS copy machine to scan and email political fundraising documents, according to CalPERS. The documents were silent-auction bidding sheets for a Women Democrats of Sacramento County fundraiser. They showed people bidding on massages, dolls and yoga lessons.

Mathur wrote that Nunley's use of the machine in the CalPERS board chambers appeared to violate a state law that bans elected officials from using public resources for campaign activities.

On Friday, she sent Brown a message declaring that Brown's use of CalPERS facilities would be restricted until May.

Mathur wrote that she would keep the discipline confidential, but the reprimand briefly surfaced in public when Brown attempted to ask about the restrictions during Monday's public CalPERS meeting.

"I need to know whether I might be subject to arrest for trespassing for being here today. I was informed by the board president on Friday she claimed to have the authority to lock me out (of) the board chambers on certain days," Brown said.

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.

Two of her peers, Theresa Taylor and Henry Jones, told Brown her question was not on the agenda and could not be discussed at that time.

Brown wrote a letter demanding answers from Mathur, accusing Mathur of misusing her authority as board president. Brown released the letter to The Sacramento Bee and to the blog Naked Capitalism.

"The U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused with the right to be presented with the charges against them and the right to mount a defense. I demand the same right. This matter will attract public attention, and CalPERS members will judge you harshly if you persist in the current course," Brown wrote to Mathur.

Although new to the board, Mathur said that Brown had received ample training to know that she not have allowed Nunley into the board chambers where confidential information could be visible to a visitor.

CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco said a CalPERS staff member saw Nunley in the room, which opened an investigation into what she was doing there. Mathur asked Brown to send all of the documents Nunley scanned back to CalPERS; Mathur does not believe that Brown has disclosed all of the information.

"It’s important we take this seriously. As members of the board, we hold the public's trust and we must protect CalPERS information," Mathur said.

Mathur's reprimand and Brown's response marked a rocky beginning to Brown's four-year term.

She was the underdog candidate in CalPERS' December election who unseated union-supported incumbent Michael Bilbrey. Leading up to the election, Brown spoke up at CalPERS meetings to challenge board decisions, encourage transparency and take incumbent board members to task over their votes.

She had support from former board member J.J. Jelincic, who also complained that his peers tried to discipline him away from public settings.

Jelincic did not run for re-election. He was reprimanded last year by former board President Rob Feckner because board members believed that Jelincic inappropriately leaked confidential information to news organizations.

Brown, the facilities director for Garden Grove Unified School District, wrote in a message to The Sacramento Bee that Nunley was helping her by scanning some of Brown's CalPERS materials. Brown wrote that she did not authorize Nunley's scanning of the fundraising documents.

Nunley did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Brown wrote that the law Mathur cited allows incidental and minimal use of public resources, and Nunley's scans should be regarded in that manner.

"The economic cost of my friend's action, which consumed no ink or paper, was probably less than one cent and the equivalent of letting an outside visitor use a single, state-purchased piece of paper to take notes," Brown wrote.

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