, Newburyport, MA

August 29, 2013

Our view: Troubled pension fund finally back on track

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Almost anywhere else, the recent audit of the Essex Regional Retirement System would be unremarkable.

Auditors checking on the Danvers-based agency, which manages pensions for 48 towns, school boards and other public entities including several in the greater Newburyport area, recently reported finding three deficiencies, all described as minor.

What makes this remarkable is the contrast with the last audit in 2010, which cited 23 deficiencies of such magnitude that an attorney for the supervising state agency called it “uncharted territory.”

The retirement system, then led by former state Rep. Timothy Bassett of Marblehead, was cited for secret meetings, misuse of retirement funds, shoddy bookkeeping, improper reimbursement of expenses and payment of more than $100,000 in legal fees without proper authorization, public bids or contracts.

Bassett, who was making a healthy six-figure salary overseeing the train wreck, was fired shortly thereafter, and the board that enabled him has been replaced.

Charles Kostro, the new executive director, has halted the abuses, cut expenses and restored the public trust. In the process he’s earned praise from the auditing agency for doing “an excellent job” of addressing the system’s many problems. Kostro had previously been Newbury’s town administrator, a job where his professionalism and competence was remarked upon by many who dealt with him.

We commend Kostro for a job well done. Many helped to bring about this transformation, including local legislators and town officials who stepped up to reform the system. Kostro carried out those reforms day to day, and everyone— taxpayers and retirees alike — can be grateful. The pension system that thousands of local public employees depend upon for their retirement is now in far better shape.