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ASSET OWNERS

N.C. employees group calls for Cowell to choose between treasurer, corporate boards

Janet Cowell

A state employees group is calling for North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell, the sole trustee of the $86.6 billion North Carolina Retirement Systems, Raleigh, to step down from her elected position or resign from two corporate boards.

Ms. Cowell, whose term ends in December and is not seeking re-election, joined the boards of ChannelAdvisor and James River Group Holdings earlier this year. She also chairs the State Banking Commission.

On Saturday, the State Employees Association of North Carolina Board of Governors unanimously approved a resolution calling on Ms. Cowell to either resign from the corporate boards or step down as treasurer. SEANC President Ross Hailey said in statement that “Janet Cowell has a choice to make. Either she can finish out the last eight months of the job the state’s voters elected her to do free from outside influence, or she can resign and focus on making millions in the private sector. She can’t do both.”

Ms. Cowell said in a statement that she has “worked hard during the last seven and a half years as treasurer to enhance accountability in the office. In that spirit, I vetted any opportunities with the State Ethics Commission and voluntarily recused myself from any potential decision-making that involved these companies, neither of which are in the state pension funds.”

In a formal advisory opinion issued Feb. 12 at Ms. Cowell’s request, the State Ethics Commission ruled that the State Government Ethics Act did not prevent her from serving on corporate boards of directors, but “may restrict her from taking official action in certain matters affecting those companies,” including situations where an action “would provide a reasonably foreseeable financial benefit” or a detriment to competitors.

The opinion also noted that neither corporation is regulated by the treasurer’s department or part of the pension fund’s investment portfolio.