San Diego Port Moves to Separate Pension Funds

February 17, 2005 ( - Officials at the Port of San Diego are moving to separate their employees' retirement funds from the city's overall pension account.

A news report in the San Diego Daily Transcript said port commissioners have outlined their desire in a letter to the San Diego City Employees Retirement System (SDCERS), the administrator of one trust that includes the pension funds of the city of San Diego, the port and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

Port Commission board chairman William Hall sent the letter to SDCERS Administrator Lawrence Grissom, outlining the desire to move the port’s $141 million in retiree funds into a separate account and choose a separate board of administrators to preside over it.

“I’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to the employees of the port,” Hall told the Daily Transcript. “We should also have the decision to make independent investment decisions on behalf of the employees.” Hall specifically said that one of the primary motivators is protection of port retirees if the city should declare bankruptcy. In the event that the city got into problems and the city went bankrupt, that would perfect the separation,” Hall said. “It’s highly unlikely the port funds would be put in jeopardy.”

Sylvia Rios, secretary for the board of port commissioners, said the port’s pension money is a “drop in the bucket” for the $3.4 billion SDCERS system. The city is currently facing a $1.37 billion deficit in the pension that has been beset by nearly continuous scandal and upheaval.

Paul Barnett, assistant administrator of the retirement system, said the action would require a vote by the SDCERS board of administrators, Barnett said.

Michael Conger, counsel for the San Diego Harbor Police Officers Association, said the move by the port board is two years too late to separate itself from the city’s account, which he called a “sinking ship.” “I would caution them to move it at all dispatch because the employees that have their money there will hold the port accountable if anything happens,” Conger told the Daily Transcript.

Other members of the port board were not as openly critical as Hall or Conger, and touted the action as a prudent move to protect its retirees.

“Obviously there is a lot of discussion on SDCERS, we want to make sure that our employees and retirees’ funds are absolutely secure,” said Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman. “This isn’t meant to throw any rocks, we simply believe that this is an appropriate time for us to create a separate trust.”