Train agency ‘raids’ CalPERS for exec talent: Oy vey!

Train agency ‘raids’ CalPERS for exec talent: Oy vey!

March 6, 2013

By Chris Reed

joemWhen the press release came out Monday that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had recruited a top executive away from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a Tweet from former Los Angeles Times journo Joe Mathews asked me if my head had exploded. A Schwarzenegger administration official sent me an email titled “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.” He wrote, “Of course the California High Speed Rail Authority would hire CalPERS’ CFO. Who better to cover up a nearly $100 billion budget hole?”

On Wednesday’s U-T San Diego editorial page, I weighed in on the topic.

“Here’s a quick quiz: What two state agencies have a long history of providing misleading and deceptive accounts of their tangled, troubled finances to the public and the Legislature? A history of depicting legitimate criticism as being ideologically driven and mendacious? A history of resisting reform and fighting to maintain a wrongheaded status quo? A history of refusing to acknowledge past fiascoes?

“If you said the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California High-Speed Rail Authority, pat yourself on the back. Given their poor records, if these agencies were looking for executive talent, one would assume they’d bring in an outsider with a strong history of oversight and independence – someone willing to stand up to the bureaucratic forces of inertia.

“But then that’s what the agencies would do if they were honest about their records. Instead, inexplicably, both the pension giant and bullet-train shepherd think they’re doing a great job. And so it was no surprise to learn this week that the rail authority has hired CALPERS’ acting chief financial officer, Russell Fong, as its CFO. How tidy.

“Expect the same management culture to continue at both agencies. Arrogance and denial: It’s the CalPERS/CHSRA way.”

We will see if anyone in the mainstream media picks up on the bullet train-CalPERS parallels. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the ability of the California media to miss the obvious.

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