Feckner Win Likely at CalPERS

Times Staff Writer

Rob Feckner, a school district maintenance worker from Napa, Calif., appears headed toward an easy election today as president of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Feckner, 47, has been serving as acting president since the ouster of his controversial predecessor, Sean Harrigan, on Dec. 2. Harrigan’s removal raised an outcry among corporate governance advocates, who feared it signaled a retreat from CalPERS’ role as an aggressive watchdog of business.

According to a number of board members and people close to CalPERS, Feckner can count on at least 10 of the 13 votes on the board -- well in excess of the simple majority he needs for election. Among the votes Feckner said he was counting on was that of Ron Alvarado, the Republican who now occupies Harrigan’s seat on the board.


Board member Willie Brown Jr., who ran unsuccessfully against Harrigan in the 2003 board election, said Monday that he had no plans to challenge Feckner.

“I’d said I’d run only if the members asked me,” said the former San Francisco mayor and state Assembly speaker, “and no members have asked me.”

With Brown apparently on the sidelines, the election “has been pretty sewn up by Rob Feckner,” said Richard Koppes, a former CalPERS general counsel who specializes in advising companies on corporate governance questions.

To build support among CalPERS board members, Koppes said, Feckner agreed to name 34-year board veteran Robert Carlson as vice president and Charles Valdes, who is elected at large by CalPERS’ 1.4 million members, as chairman of CalPERS’ key investment committee.

Feckner, who worked closely with Harrigan over the last two years, predicted that his election would result more in a change of personal style than a shift in policy. In contrast to Harrigan’s high-profile and at times combative approach to the CalPERS job, Feckner is seen as more of a behind-the-scenes consensus builder.

“I don’t think you’ll see the overall vision of CalPERS change much,” he said.

Feckner said he planned to continue the board’s long-standing practice of using its $183-billion investment portfolio, the largest public pension fund in the U.S., to goad corporations into being better citizens.


Over the last two decades, CalPERS has become an international leader in convincing boards and management that transparent corporate governance is good for the bottom line. CalPERS also has become a pioneer in pushing companies to rein in excessive executive pay and take actions to protect the environment and human rights.

But under Harrigan’s leadership, CalPERS’ proactive stance toward alleged corporate misconduct drew fire from Republican politicians and business lobbyists in Washington and Sacramento.

Harrigan, a regional executive of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, was criticized for allegedly blurring the distinction between advocating for good corporate citizenship and using shareholder power to push political and pro-union positions.

Last year, Harrigan and Feckner caught flak for leading campaigns to oust Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner and Safeway Inc. CEO Steven Burd. Business groups accused the CalPERS officials of interfering with private labor negotiations by writing a letter demanding that Southern and Central California supermarket operators settle a two-month strike in 2004.

“I hope that under his [Feckner’s] leadership, they focus on earning the maximum rate of return on investments to benefit the taxpayers of California, who are responsible for guaranteeing the defined-benefits pensions,” said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, CalPERS earned an overall 13.5% rate of return.