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Sonoma County hires pension administrator from Orange County


Sonoma County’s pension system has hired as its new top administrator an official with the much larger and more politically embattled Orange County government retirement fund.

Julie Wyne, the assistant chief executive officer and general counsel for the Orange County system, is set to take over for Gary Bei, who is retiring after nine years as Sonoma County’s pension administrator.

Wyne, 49, has worked at the Orange County Employees Retirement System since 2000, starting as a staff attorney. She has held her current position since 2008.

Julie Wyne.

Julie Wyne.

Her move north will take her from an $11 billion pension fund, with about 40,000 active and retired members, to Sonoma County’s $2.2 billion fund, with about 8,600 retirees and active workers combined.

Both systems have been faced with significant funding challenges, fueled largely by more generous pension benefits approved in the past decade and staggering investment losses during the recession.

Sonoma County’s unfunded pension liability — the difference between its assets and what it will owe to retirees — totals $527 million. Orange County’s is $5.7 billion.

“I wouldn’t put Sonoma in a different place than any other sister system (in California) as far as the challenges they’re facing,” Wyne said.

The Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association covers six government agencies, of which the county is by far the largest. Both it and the Orange County fund are part of a network of 20 county pension systems independent from the two main state funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS.

Wyne’s arrival in Sonoma County will coincide with ongoing efforts to address skyrocketing taxpayer pension costs and implementation of accounting changes that would require local and state governments to more clearly report the extent of their unfunded pension obligations.

Wyne said she is up to the task. “It was time for me to step up and run a system,” she said.

The state-ordered pension reforms and looming accounting changes are familiar issues at this point, she said. New challenges will include how to prepare Sonoma County’s system for the future, making sure the various policies and assumptions that go into pension administration are sound.

“And then you look at your investment portfolio,” Wyne said. “What is the business cycle doing, where is it going and are we well positioned for the future?”

That work has been bruising at times in Orange County, where dueling political camps have tussled for control of the pension board. Its decision to lower the fund’s earnings assumption rate — and the resulting higher contributions for both the employees and the county — have prompted rebellion among a group of 18,000 county workers, which has claimed the new, more frugal math is an attempt by conservative officials to make the system appear unsustainable. The group has threatened to jump to CalPERS, the giant system serving mostly state and city employees.

Sonoma County’s pension system, while closely watched by unions and retirees, hasn’t seen those sort of fireworks. Wyne said that was a plus for her.

In Orange County “there was a lot of distraction from political pressure that takes away from the right question, which is ‘What is the fiduciary responsibility?’” she said.

Wyne’s legal background, breadth of experience in Orange County and ability to build relationships with county officials, retirees and the public drove her selection, said Kiergan Pegg, chairman of the board for the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association.

“She’s faced a lot of the tough issues that she would face here,” Pegg said.

Wyne holds degrees in science and law from Western State University. She was previously a partner in the law firm of Shupe, Reagan and Wyne.

A southern California native and mother of three young children, she is planning to move with her family to Sonoma County.

Her appointment becomes effective Dec. 10, allowing some overlap with Bei, who is set to retire Dec. 24.

Her annual salary will be $205,247, at the top end of the advertised range for the position.

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

3 Responses to “Sonoma County hires pension administrator from Orange County”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    “Her annual salary will be $205,247, at the top end of the advertised range for the position.”

    Presumably that does not include the cost of benefits, such as her medical and retirement costs; does she get a stipend for a new vehicle?

    For that kind of money, the best the County could do as hire someone from the Orange County Employees Retirement System fiasco? Really?

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Just wondering. Is this another brand newly created management position? The county has been adding managers in an already top heavy with managers government. The BOS was supposed to be working on this ratio and getting more front line workers. I guess they got confused. With all the expensive contracting out replacing experienced lower paid county workers they need highly paid managers to manage those contracts.

    Is the public watching? Is someone going to take up this banner?

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  3. Filled with Joy says:

    The new pension clerk, administrator will just be a functionary, pushing paper and drawing a really, really nice paycheck.

    It’s a nice gig for someone who is not ambitious and wants to take nice vacations.

    The retirement mess at the County will not be fixed until the Board of Stupidvisors decide to fix it or the system and county government fill for bankruptcy.

    Meanwhile, this new county employee will continue to draw her large paycheck and watch Rome burn so to speak.

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