As many of you already know from the mainstream media, ten public officials from the Grand Rapids area plan on attending a pension fund conference called NCPERS 2007 in Honolulu, Hawaii, later this month. The National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems is hosting the event. Ostensibly the week-long conference provides the latest information on the management of public pension funds for trustees, administrators, and staffers. It is in fact a vacation that NCPERS, a Washington D.C.-based lobby for public pension fund managers, offers as a perk for its members and a money-raiser for its coffers -- all on the taxpayers' dime.
You see, NCPERS 2007 is like any other trade conference or business seminar that a promoter, under the aegis of a trade association, puts together as a profit-making venture. Now many of these get-togethers are quite useful, and serious training and business is conducted. So private businesses pay the tab to send employees to them. But as often as not, these confabs occur in places like Chicago or Indianapolis as they do in Las Vegas or Orlando. Besides, if the owner of a company is willing to pay extra to send an employee to a vacation spot, that's his call.
You the taxpayer don't get to make that call when it comes to public pension officials who want to sign up for a NCPERS junket. And it is a junket. There won't be much serious business conducted in Honolulu by your public servants. The conference schedule is pretty lean. Only five of the seven days of the conference have speakers or seminars, and on those days everything wraps up by 1:30 p.m. at the latest. And if you still doubt the vacation atmosphere of the event, NCPERS assures attendees that their children are welcome to come along. (Most conferences and trade shows in the private sector prohibit people under 18.)
NCPERS is concerned that the public will see this Honolulu junket for what it is, and so attempts to arm its members with some disinformation to feed the taxpayers. For example, NCPERS claims the per-person cost to attend a conference in Honolulu instead of Orlando (note, another vacation spot as opposed to Des Moines or Grand Rapids) is only a couple hundreds bucks more at around $1,400 including airfare, ground transportation, lodging, food, and beverage. The idea is to pitch the Honolulu location as incidental to this most important event. Hawaii just isn't that much more expensive, according to the NCPERS propaganda. Yeah, right. The hotel bill alone for NCPERS 2007 is nearly $1,600, and that's if your public servant gets the cheapest discount-rate room sponsored by NCPERS at the Honolulu Hilton. Add on at least $70 for ground transportation, $300-$400 for food and drink, and the $595 admission fee into the conference, and the total tab is nearly double what NCPERS tells its members to report to the taxpayers.
The bottom line, folks, is that the reason why NCPERS 2007 is in Honolulu is that it is a money-making venture. Because the content of the conference is next to worthless, no one would attend if it weren't for the location and the fact that you, the taxpayers, are paying for it. So when Peggy Korzen, who manages the public employee pension funds for the City of Grand Rapids, says (according to the Grand Rapids Press) she is going along with five other colleagues because, "We need to be educated what the current laws are and the current trends are", ask her when she gets back what they learned at those grueling 2 1/2 hour-long seminars (that mercifully ended by 1:30 in the afternoon) that they couldn't have gotten from a trade magazine, a book, or a local class for a whole lot less than the $15,000-16,000 the taxpayers will be footing for their Hawaiian junket.