Ohio AG sues, seeking removal of two teacher pension system board members

Yost wants to oust or limit Steen and Fichtenbaum from STRS board; Fichtenbaum, a former WSU professor, says he’s done nothing wrong

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit seeking to remove two members of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (STRS) board, including one who is a former Wright State University professor, according to documents filed Wednesday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit asks that Wade Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum, a former WSU economics professor, be removed from the board or prohibited from serving on the STRS investment committee. It accuses them of breaching their fiduciary duties.

“The Attorney General files this suit, as he must, to protect teachers against private interests attempting to hijack their retirement accounts,” the lawsuit said.

Fichtenbaum said he had done nothing wrong and plans to continue fighting for the interests of the pension system members.

“Since I was elected to the Board, I have fulfilled my duty as a fiduciary, acting with integrity and in a professional manner. I have done nothing but represent the interest of members, both active and retirees,” he said in a written statement released on Tuesday. “When I was elected, I ran on a platform to restore the COLA for all members, reducing management costs, and ensuring the solvency of the pension.”

Fichtenbaum called the allegations “scurrilous” and said his goal was to improve the STRS investment practices, increase transparency and avoid cutting members’ benefits.

Steen could not be reached for comment, and Dan Minnich, chief communication officer for STRS, said the system “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Yost’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week Yost announced he had opened an investigation into concerns about the pension system’s “susceptibility to a hostile takeover by private interests.” Yost cited an anonymous letter that his office and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office recently received questioning proposals made by some members of the STRS board to change investment practices.

“Pension board members are required by law to act in the best interest of the teachers whose money they invest,” Yost said in a May 9 news release. “I will take whatever action is necessary to protect teachers against private interests attempting to hijack their retirement accounts.”

Robin Rayfield, director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, disputed the allegations.

“Reformers won the battle of ideas through a fair democratic process over the last six elections,” Rayfield said in comments to this newspaper earlier this month. “Teachers voted for reform because reform is desperately needed. Our actions in support of reform have been legal, ethical and necessary. This anonymous letter is nothing more than sour grapes from those who have lost.”

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said the group is concerned about reports about STRS, according to a news release issued May 11.

“But we caution OFT members — and all STRS members — to avoid reacting to politically motivated rumors and insinuations,” Cropper said. “If Board members have acted inappropriately, we expect those actions to be addressed by official investigations from the Ohio Ethics Commission, the attorney general, and/or the state auditor.”

She said the group’s focus remains on “supporting retirement advocates for the STRS Board who are focused on making concrete changes that improve transparency and accountability at STRS and restore member benefits in a fiscally responsible manner.”

STRS Ohio oversees about $90 billion in pension funds for about 530,000 retired school employees.

Staff writer Eileen McClory contributed to this report.

Follow @LynnHulseyDDN on Facebook, Instagram and X.

About the Author