Philbin Brings New Look To State Board

JULY 2001 - Reflects Her Enthusiasm - After
two years on the job as director of the State Retirement Board which
oversees the massive State Retirement System, Ellen Philbin is still as
enthusiastic as her first day at the helm.And
that enthusiasm is reflected in the atmosphere that permeates this
vital state agency, where employees go about their daily chores in a
manner that is anything but bureaucratic. While the Board’s operation
has always been high-quality, Philbin’s management style has served to
even further enhance that quality.

Having
most recently worked at Brandeis University’s National Center for Women
and Aging and earlier as a New England coordinator for AARP, Philbin’s
background, in working with issues of retirement, has prepared her for
the types of problems she would encounter in the public retirement
arena.

“I did have some prior
knowledge of Chapter 32 (Mass Public Retirement Law), but I had to
quickly expand that knowledge to cover every nuance of the law,” she
said. “There have been countless changes and amendments over the years.
I wanted know the history behind these changes. I also wanted to be
prepared for new legislative proposals so I could understand them from
the perspective of employees and retirees.”

But
Chapter 32 doesn’t address all of the issues of concern to public
retirees. This is where Philbin’s background is especially helpful. For
members who are eligible for Social Security and may be affected by its
offset and windfall provisions she is a source of advice and guidance.
Health insurance, Medicare and benefits outside of Chapter 32 enable
her to speak to individuals and groups on a broad range of issues.

Philbin
has been well-schooled in the meaning of public service. Her father’s
cousin, Phil Philbin of Clinton, was a Congressman for 35 years. She
was an issues coordinator for Congressman Edward Boland and later
Congressman Richard Neal during a 10 year period from 1980-1990.

With
her background, she remains active in politics, which she very much
enjoys, but is quick to remind that “politics stops at the office door.
We are here to serve all members of the state retirement system in an
equal and professional manner. This is clearly understood by all staff
members ...”

Speaking of the
Retirement Board staff, Philbin has high praise for the employees of
the Board. “Our staff members are extremely dedicated and highly
professional people. At our staff meetings service and courtesy to
state employees and retirees is a constant theme,” she said. “And we
are always seeking ways to improve our service, especially as a source
of up-to-date, accurate information.”

Philbin,
herself, was responsible for editing the comprehensive Guide to
Retirement Benefits, which Treasurer Shannon O’Brien has made available
to members of the retirement system.

Under
Philbin’s watch, the Board has created a mailing list of 600 state
employees, who serve in a human resources capacity in the various state
agencies and departments throughout the Commonwealth. When there is any
change in our retirement law each of these officials is notified and
provided with a full explanation which can be distributed.

The
director and members of her staff also conduct retirement education
seminars at various statewide locations. State agencies and
institutions are encouraged to offer this service to their employees.

She
also works closely with Deputy Director Bob Minue in implementing
pension cost-of-living increases as soon as the budget is passed by the
Legislature and signed by the Governor. “COLAs are always a first
priority,” Philbin said.

Another of
the director’s duties is to prepare the agenda for meetings of the
five-member Retirement Board. Because the State System is so large,
there may be as many as twenty disability cases to be acted upon in a
single month. Each case has its own file which she makes available to
Board members several days in advance of a meeting.

“I’d
have to say that Ellen’s extensive background with elder law and issues
is one of her strong suits. She’s not just an administrator of Chapter
32, she has seen and experienced the entire scope of retirement,” said
State Retirement Board member Ralph White. “She truly has a deep
interest in the entire retirement package that transcends Chapter 32.”

Jean Simone, an administration supervisor with 32 years service, is the senior employee at the State Board.

“Every
director has his or her own style. Ellen’s style is very much hands-on.
I say that in a positive sense... not in an imposing sense. Right from
her first day, she has sought advice on how to make things better,
asking, ‘How can we improve what we are now doing?’ I have found it
very inspiring to have someone like that heading our office,” Simone
said.

“Among other appointments,
every new treasurer names his or her own retirement director. Running
the State Retirement Board is a very sensitive job and Treasurer
O’Brien took four months to make that appointment... It was her last
appointment,” White recalled. “I know the Treasurer screened a number
of people and sought lots of advice before making a decision.”

From what we’ve seen thus-far, the Treasurer made the right decision.

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