CalPERS Poised to Tap New Board Head

February 13, 2003 ( - The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) is set to tap its first new board president in 10 years.

The $130-billion CalPERS, closely watched as a bellwether for pension-related trends because of its size and influence, will choose next week from among Acting Board President Robert Carlson, union official Sean Harrigan, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr., Dow Jones reported. The new board head replaces William Dale Crist who stepped down January 15 (see Seismic Shifts Ahead for CalPERS? ).

The current candidates to take over the top spot of the nation’s largest public pension fund include:

  • Carlson, a retired chief counsel for the California Department of Transportation, has the longest history working at CalPERS. An elected board member since 1971, he served as board president from 1976 to 1985. He had been vice president since 2000.
  • Harrigan was appointed to the board in 1999 by the California State Personnel Board on which he serves.   He has more than 30 years experience in the food industry, including working for Safeway Supermarkets in various capacities. In 1993, he became assistant to the director of organizing at the Food and Commercial Workers International Union in Washington, DC.
  • Brown, a well-known politician, was appointed last month by Gov. Gray Davis to serve a second term on the CalPERS board. 

CalPERS Internal Woes

The giant fund has suffered from a series of high-profile turnovers including a chief executive officer, a deputy executive officer, and a general counsel (see  Seismic Shifts Ahead for CalPERS? ). CalPERS “is not just an organization in transition,” the pension fund’s new CEO, Fred Buenrostro, Jr., told a group of business people at a meeting in New York in October. “Almost everybody’s gone.”

Some of the top positions, including general counsel, have already been filled, and this week Buenrostro said he is “very close to announcing replacements for the staff who left”, according to the report.

Only seven votes – a board majority – are necessary to choose a president. CalPERS’ board consists of 13 members; six are elected, three appointed, and four serve as a function of their positions in state government. The board elects a new president each year.