It’s entirely fitting that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which advocates openness and transparency in financial matters, should have selected as its new president Rob Feckner, who is by training and trade a glazier.
It’s entirely fitting that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which advocates openness and transparency in financial matters, should have selected as its new president Rob Feckner, who is by training and trade a glazier. Straightforward and dogged, Feckner is, more importantly, a genuinely nice guy, given to making his arguments as painstakingly and delicately as he once installed windowpanes for a California school district.
Feckner in February succeeded the fiery Sean Harrigan, a man more inclined to heave stones through windows than to fix them. Under Harrigan the nation’s biggest pension plan had ratcheted up the volume of its corporate activism and become a headline writer’s delight. Most notably, CalPERS last year pushed loudly for the ouster of Safeway CEO Steven Burd -- a controversial move that backfired when Harrigan’s motives as an official of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which was striking against the company, were questioned. He was subsequently pushed aside.
As senior writer Steven Brull reveals in this month’s cover story (“A Truly Civil Servant,” page 30), Feckner lacks neither grit nor dedication to CalPERS’s long-standing values. In the first months of his incumbency, he squared off defiantly -- and so far triumphantly -- against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wants to offer new state employees 401(k)-style retirement accounts rather than traditional CalPERS-style pension plans. But Feckner’s approach is more low-key than his predecessor’s and thus may prove more successful.
Civility is very much in short supply these days, and it’s refreshing to see exemplars of that quality emerging on the public scene. It’s equally discouraging to watch as they depart. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William Donaldson, who announced his resignation June 1 after nearly two and a half years as the nation’s top securities cop, has long conducted himself with the ease of one to the manner born. That quiet self-assurance has led some to say he lacks substance, but such criticism is well off the mark. From his days, nearly five decades ago, as an innovator on Wall Street to his tenure at the SEC, where he proved a resilient and thoughtful reformer, Donaldson has combined grace with gravitas.
If all who engaged in public debate did so with the candor and civility of Feckner and Donaldson, our civic discourse -- and our daily lives -- would be much the better for it.