THE ARROGANCE is stunning.
Priya Mathur, a member of the board of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, acts like rules don't apply to her. Other elected officials and high-level government employees understand that they are required to file economic statements each year to ensure the public knows of potential conflicts of interest. Not Mathur.
Mathur, who is also a $101,000-a-year financial analyst at BART, sits on the 13-member CalPERS board that oversees more than $200 billion of assets for 1.6 million active and retired state, public school and local public agency employees around the state. She holds the one seat designated to represent employees of local governments that invest their retirement funds through the pension system.
She was elected by the local employees to that position in 2002. It was a campaign governed by many of the same rules that apply to races for public office around the state. The candidates must disclose their campaign contributors and, if elected, must file the conflict-of-interest statements. Mathur did neither.
She had plenty of warnings. She was told in advance of the campaign statement requirements. She was sent a notice that her statements were past due. And another. The statements were more than a year late when the state Fair Political Practices Commission stepped in and contacted her, prompting her to finally file the documents.
As for the conflict-of-interest statement, she was warned in advance. When she missed the deadline, the FPPC sent two letters notifying her that her statement was late. It wasn't until the commission's enforcement division contacted her that she finally complied, nearly six months late.
For her tardiness on the campaign and conflict-of-interest documents, Mathur was fined $6,000. One would think she would have learned.
But Mathur is like that kid who figures the rules don't apply to her. You know, the one who thinks nothing of skipping class or not turning in her term paper. And if she gets punished, the lesson doesn't stick.
So it shouldn't be surprising that she didn't file her conflict-of-interest statement for 2007. And she failed again for 2008.
In both cases, the FPPC had to send repeated warning letters. She refused to return phone calls or e-mails from the Enforcement Division. When the agency tried to send documents to her San Francisco home by certified mail, she refused to sign for them. And she avoided a process server the commission sent to her home. As a result, the agency had to use its investigators to serve her with documents at CalPERS meetings in Sacramento.
When the Sacramento Bee reported in January on her failure to file the conflict statements, she finally sent the FPPC the required documents. On them, she claimed no income that would potentially pose a conflict. One statement was a year late, the other was two years tardy. She released a statement saying, "I apologize and take full responsibility for failing to file these reports timely to the FPPC."
But that didn't mean she would change her ways. There was still the matter of the punishment from the FPPC. Again, she refused to cooperate, ignoring calls and e-mails from the commission. Again, the FPPC had to serve her at the CalPERS meetings — twice.
In April, the FPPC fined her $3,000 for the tardy 2007 conflict-of-interest statement. This month, the agency hit her with another fine, $4,000, for the 2008 statement. The latter was the largest state fine for a delinquent Statement of Economic Interest that FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter knows of.
The FPPC approved that last fine on May 13, which was also the deadline for candidates to file to challenge Mathur in her bid for a third term on the CalPERS board. No one filed. Mathur will serve another four years.
Six days later, the CalPERS board censured Mathur, stripping her of travel privileges and suspending her from her position as chair of the pension fund's Health Benefits Committee until Dec. 1. "Ms. Mathur's serious lapses of her responsibility warrant this action," said Rob Feckner, president of the CalPERS Board.
And then came the mea culpa from Mathur in which she expresses "profound regret ... for embarrassing this board." She assured her CalPERS directors that "I have great respect for the FPPC and the public trust that it upholds and will comply, of course, with all of its findings, including fines. And I want to assure this board that this will not happen again."
It's taken eight years and $13,000 in fines to get to this point. Has she learned her lesson, or does she just want her travel privileges and committee chairmanship back? As of Friday, despite her promise, she hadn't paid the latest $7,000 in penalties.
I tried to reach her for comment. I sent her an e-mail. She didn't respond. I tried phoning her at BART, where, ironically, she's in charge of the monthly reports to the federal government on how the transit agency is spending stimulus money. She didn't answer the phone. And, unlike other BART administrators, until Friday she had no working voice mail. Not surprising, I guess. After all, she's special.
Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.