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Mayor’s pension role targeted

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Responding to investigations of public pension systems across the country, two members of the Los Angeles City Council called Wednesday for a reduction in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s power to pick pension board members.

Councilmen Dennis Zine and Bernard C. Parks said no single politician should be able to control a board majority at both the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System and Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions -- agencies that invest billions of dollars on behalf of retired public employees.

Villaraigosa nominates five of nine members on the Fire and Police Pensions board and four of seven members on the city employees’ retirement board.

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The proposal follows the resignations of three of Villaraigosa’s pension appointees in a single month. Kelly Candaele stepped down from the city employees’ board after he co-hosted a fundraiser for city attorney candidate Jack Weiss in violation of city ethics law.

Two other mayoral appointees, Sean Harrigan and Elliott Broidy, left the Fire and Police Pensions board after receiving a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission that asked about their communications with three firms under scrutiny in the investigation of alleged kickbacks in New York. Both said they had committed no wrongdoing but had become distractions to the board.

Pension board member George Aliano told the council that Harrigan, the mayor’s top appointee at Fire and Police Pensions, regularly let his colleagues know that he and other Villaraigosa appointees controlled the investment agenda, telling them “ ‘I can get the five votes whenever I want.’ ”

Harrigan disputed Aliano’s characterization. “I’m sure what was said, and I say it frequently, is you’ve got to count to five . . . to get anything passed,” he said.

To change how board members are chosen, the council would need to ask voters to revise the City Charter.

Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said the council already confirms each of the mayor’s pension nominees. The mayor is developing new criteria for selecting pension board members, Szabo said.

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Meanwhile, the union that represents Los Angeles police officers offered its own policy suggestions for Fire and Police Pensions, which delivers benefits to 12,000 retirees and their beneficiaries.

The Police Protective League said the pension board should not do business with any company that gave a campaign contribution to any city politician during the previous two-year period. Such a policy would apply not just to the mayor but all city elected officials, league President Paul Weber said.

“Pension funds have a purpose, and it’s not to become a trough so people can use it to further their political ambitions,” said Weber, whose union recently spent $745,000 on its effort to elect Carmen Trutanich as city attorney.

Weber said he knew of no improper campaign fundraising activities in Los Angeles. Still, his union’s proposal would affect the fundraising practices of Villaraigosa and other city candidates.

Two years ago, two city pension boards voted to allocate $50 million to a real estate fund headed by former Cabinet Secretary Henry Cisneros. Since then, Cisneros has hosted campaign fundraisers for Weiss and Villaraigosa.

Zine said he too thinks that pension boards should stop doing business with companies that make such donations.

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“We don’t want to have a cloud,” he said. “I’m not accusing anyone, but we want it to be . . . without a cloud.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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