The $60 billion New York State & Local Retirement System is the second largest public pension fund in the country.
But its investment operations are arguably the quietest.
This is partially by design. No public meetings are held on the investment decisions made by the comptroller, H. Carl McCall, who is the sole trustee of the fund, so there is no public debate.
But it also is attributable to Mr. McCall, a Democrat who was elected last November. Mr. McCall first was appointed by the Legislature in 1993 to complete the unexpired term of Republican Edward Regan, who resigned.
Since he assumed office, there has been no assigning of blame for the past investment performance of the fund.
There has been no scapegoating of his predecessor.
There has been but one change of the investment staff.
Mr. McCall has even been quiet on corporate governance issues, on which Mr. Regan used to keep a high profile.
But the volume of the retirement system's operations has been turned up.
Earlier in the year, newly elected Gov. George Pataki proposed a budget that used $230 million from the pension fund as ballast.
Mr. McCall threatened a lawsuit. Mr. Pataki backed down.
On May 24, Mr. Pataki proposed a pension funding method that saves the state and local governments $1.4 billion through 1999 by pushing back contributions to later years. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo unsuccessfully tried a similar pension funding gimmick, and Mr. McCall has implied the courts may have to settle the matter.
"Based on the similarity between this proposal and the PUC (Mr. Cuomo's projected unit credit) case, a successful defense (against a lawsuit) is unlikely," Mr. McCall said in a letter to Mr. Pataki.
One union representing state workers wants a board of trustees made up of representatives of the employees. The union also wants two funds - one for police and firefighters, and one for all other employees.
The New York City location of the retirement system's real estate division is being reviewed, and industry sources said the staff is not keen on being moved to Albany, which is a possibility.
Also, the system's $2.2 billion mortgage portfolio - heavily weighted in properties in the state, and in office buildings in particular - has had its share of problems, although steps to rectify them have been taken.
Mr. McCall has so far declined to politicize the fund. He inherited the troubled mortgage portfolio, but he didn't publicly hang it around the neck of his predecessor. He blocked a Pensions & Investments reporter's attempt to obtain a consultant's recommendation about the portfolio.
"We felt some of the information in it was confidential," said Mr. McCall. "I'm looking out for the integrity of the fund.
"If we disclosed precisely its value, it would have undermined us in the marketplace."
Mr. McCall's ability to shield the fund from politics soon will be put to a stronger test.
Gov. Pataki has said he intends to use the supplemental fund to balance his state budget, despite a 1993 ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals that prevented Gov. Cuomo from deferring contributions to the fund for the same purpose.
The money could be used, if Mr. McCall approved of its use. But he doesn't, and he has said he will file suit if any attempt is made to use the reserve fund.
The budget debate has overshadowed an effort by the Civil Service Employees Association to implement a multiple trustee system and split the pension system.
According to CSEA spokesman Stanley Hornak, the issues are on his organization's legislative agenda for 1995 but will have to wait until the budget is passed.
In testimony before the Legislature, Mr. McCall was non-committal about a multiple trustee system: "The buck stops here, and I am going to be totally responsible. I am prepared to assume that until you decide that you want to make a change."
In an interview with P&I, he said his position hasn't changed.
"My position ..... is the people and the participants are comfortable with the arrangement, so I'm comfortable with it," Mr. McCall said.
The CSEA also wants to divide the fund because the jobs of the employees are vastly different to be managed effectively by one pension fund.
According to Mr. Hornak, the police and firefighters have a 20-year retirement option; general employees become eligible for retirement at either age 55 or 62 and most contribute more to the system than do police and firefighters; and general employees must meet more stringent requirements for years of service and specific retirement age.
Mr. McCall's apolitical tenure - at least, with respect to the investments division - is also noteworthy for its minimal personnel changes.
His sole investment division appointment involved the hiring of Alan Sullivan earlier this year as deputy comptroller, real estate. He replaced Robert Steves.
Mr. McCall described Mr. Steves' departure as a mutual decision. Mr. Steves told P&I last year that he left because it was time for a change.
During the search that resulted in the hiring of Mr. Sullivan, there were rumors about the real estate division being relocated, prompting some employees to begin looking elsewhere for work.
"Some people do back-office processing, and it might be easier to do it here (in Albany)," Mr. McCall said. "It's under review - both the back office and the whole department."
About the only investment management change from Mr. Regan's era is the larger commitment to international stocks and the hiring of money managers owned by women and minorities.
The fund is about 6% invested in international stocks; in 1991, nine-tenths of 1% of the fund's total assets was in foreign stocks.
Before Mr. McCall's tenure, none of the retirement system's money was managed by companies owned and operated by minorities. Seven companies and one joint venture between a majority-owned firm and a minority-owned firm since have been added.
He also has added minority- and women-owned broker dealers to the fund's trading roster.