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Council And Retirement Board At Odds Over Money In Private Prisons

A Cincinnati council majority isn't happy the city's retirement board has no plans right now to divest in the holdings the pension fund has in private prisons.  

A council majority asked for that in December.  

The pension board, in a letter, says such a policy wouldn't be good for active and retired members of the system.

"We believe this would be contrary to the board's fiduciary duty and would detract from the invest performance of CRS funds," wrote Tom Gamble, who's the chairman of the city's retirement board.

Right now a small amount of Cincinnati's pension assets is invested with companies that operate private prisons.  

Many council members, including Wendell Young, were disappointed with the letter.

"I have real difficulty in understanding how the board can be so cavalier in its response to our wish, our stated desire to divest ourselves of investments in private prisons," Young said. "I don't think it would be that difficult to do."

Council member P.G. Sittenfeld, who introduced the motion last year, also expressed frustration.

"It sounds like people are kind of ticked off here," Sittenfeld said. "For reasons that really cut to the center of why a lot of us ran for office in the first place, which is to advance a set of values. To feel like we're on the right side of fairness, feel like we're on the right side of social justice."

Some council members are asking the board to re-consider its decision.  

Bill Mueller is a member of the retirement board and addressed a council committee Tuesday.

"There may be other policies out there that the council or others may be wanting to implement, worthwhile policies that would have a potentially negative effect on the funds invested for the pension or healthcare trust," Mueller said.

Indeed, some council members asked if pension funds are invested with gun manufacturers or companies that could be involved if a border wall is built between the United States and Mexico.  

A council committee is likely to re-visit the issue again next month.

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Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.