State Retirement Board: White Re-Elected

MARCH 2014 VOICE: Former Association President Ralph White was elected to a new three-year term on the State Retirement Board effective this January. This will be his sixth three-year term.

Unlike his 2001 election when he was unopposed, White had three opponents in this latest election. They were Thomas Mullage, a contract manager at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital; Christine Turner, A UMass Amherst Librarian and executive board member of the MTA Society of Professors; and Randy Azzato, a former director with the Department of Correction.

White, who thanked the many retirees and employees who voted, carried 79% of the Board’s total vote, with his three challengers splitting the remaining 21%. The total of 12,000 was low compared to some elections in the past. In 1998, when employee ballots were collected by individual agencies and sent to the Retirement Board (retirees by mail) there were 12 candidates and 29,000 votes. White won that one with almost 20,000 votes.

White’s fellow Board members are: State Treasurer Steve Grossman, the Board’s chairman; Theresa McGoldrick, a DOR Child Support Enforcement attorney and president of NAGE Unit 6. McGoldrick is the Board’s second elected member; Pat Deal, a retired Water Pollution Abatement Trust Official, appointed by the Treasurer and Christopher Conlon, the Political Director of SEIU Local 509, who is appointed by the Board’s first four members and completes the Board’s makeup. Attorney Nick Favorito is the Board’s executive director, and also a deputy treasurer.

“We are a very involved Board said White. There are an average of 20 accidental and ordinary disability cases that we study and vote on each month, votes on thirty or forty Group 2 and Group 4 classification applicants, accidental death benefit cases, termination benefit votes, plus appeals from active and retired members of the system and any attorneys who wish to appear on their behalf.

“We have four full-time in-house attorneys who represent the Board in cases that are further appealed to the state’s Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (CRAB) or cases that have reached the court level. These attorneys also conduct the legal research on the myriad cases on which we ultimately vote.”

There are currently some fifty Board staff who serve the members, active and retired, of the State Retirement System. These employees are well-trained in all aspects of service to the system, plus the individual departments to which they are appointed. These departments would include disability, survivor benefits, classification, benefit calculation analyst, customer service, audit and finance, and employer and board unit.

Statewide Activist

White’s activity doesn’t stop at the State Retirement Board. He’s especially fond of the Massachusetts Association of Contributory Retirement Systems (MACRS), an organization that represents all 105 retirement systems of our state which covers all public sector employees and retirees of the Commonwealth.

“Within MACRS, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the legislative chairman for many years. MACRS allows us to work as a team regardless of which retirement system we belong,” said White. “I’ve also had the luxury of having Shawn Duhamel and his razor-sharp memory working with me.

“Over 70 percent of the MACRS Executive Board members, including its President Denis Devine, are retired members of their respective retirement systems’ retirement boards. Devine, a retired Woburn fire lieutenant, is an elected member of the Woburn Retirement Board. He’s a true workhorse.”

MACRS’ has long been engaged in an ongoing conflict with certain organizations whose mantra is to challenge public pension liability via the media, especially the press.

The Mass. Taxpayers’ Foundation and the Pioneer Institute have continuously slammed the unfunded liability of our state and local retirement systems as “budget busters,” with a huge “unfunded liability,” that is choking the taxpayers. We would add the Mass. Municipal Association, which is at times an adversary and at other times somewhat placid.

“I’d have to put the Pioneer Institute at the top of the list,” said White. “They are a relatively new but extremely well-funded group who put out some impressive white papers targeting public sector pensions and health insurance. Pioneer is here in Boston on Devonshire Street and they produce a clever intellectual-style product that is made to order for the editorial pages.

“MACRS has now readied its own white paper with the truth behind our unfunded pension liability and how we are properly addressing shortfalls that were not created by employees or retirees,” said MACRS President Devine. “It’s always been an uphill battle. We are the underdogs, and always will be.”