Globetrotting pension fund execs raise eyebrows

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 28 at 11:52 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, London, Zurich, Brazil, Florence and Milan.

While that itinerary may sound like a vacationer's dream, it's just part of the travel schedule of the head of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System... that's the group that built and owns Museum Tower in downtown Dallas.

Now, one board member says it's time for a change.

The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System is the organization in charge of investing $3.6 billion in retirement money for more than 9,000 police officers and firefighters in the city.

One of those investments — the Museum Tower — is at the center of the controversy over the glare scorching the Nasher Sculpture Center next door.

Now, a new issue may be casting a negative reflection on the pension system. It is contained in 16 volumes of travel records detailing four years of out-of-town expenditures by staff and board members obtained by News 8.

Of the $185,000 spent on travel last year, more than $21,000 of it was attributed to chief administrator Richard Tettamant.

Our check of his expenditures over the past four years shows an exhaustive tour of duty all over the globe to either attend conferences, meet with fund managers, or to check in on pension fund investments in London, Brazil, Zurich, Uruguay, Florence, Milan, Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi, where airfare alone was more than $13,000.

But it appears Tettamant's favorite destinations were right here in the U.S., taking 13 trips to visit three luxury properties in Napa Valley.

He has also made three trips in three years to check in on boutique properties in Hawaii.

Fund Board Member and Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs is troubled by some of what he saw in the records obtained by News 8. Specifically, how the majority of site visits by staff were to exotic properties that traditionally don’t generate as much revenue... or are losing money.

"We need to ask the tough questions," Griggs said. "Should we be involved in apartments in Arlington, Texas, or luxury properties in Napa Valley and Hawaii? What serves the pension fund best?"

While Griggs said many of the expenditures look ordinary, he and others on the board are becoming leery of some of the selected properties attracting a disproportionate share of their time and travel budget.

“It raises a question about all of these luxury investments,” Griggs said. “I think the Pension Board, the Trustees are coming around to realizing and putting a plan in place that we don't need to be involved in so many of these luxury investments."

While Tettamant was not available for comment, the Board's deputy vice chairman Rick Salinas posted this statement on the pension fund website:

"Travel is important because it allows us to do site visits and due diligence ourselves. It gives us a much higher level of confidence in our investments... when we can personally view the property."

The trip to Abu Dhabi in 2009 was a costly one. Seven people from the pension system went — at a cost of more than $100,000 — to attend an energy conference.

We wanted to ask Pension Fund staff members about the details of that conference on Monday, but they were all in Washington D.C. at a conference.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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