Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine early in May announced the removal of Wade Steen, chief financial officer of Cleveland Metroparks, from the board of trustees of the $88.2 billion Ohio State Teachers' Retirement System, Columbus.
The ouster was seen as a declaration of war against teachers, according to STRS Ohio Watchdogs, an online group of retired teachers that has mounted a multiyear social media campaign protesting the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment.
The board consists of 11 members, one of which is appointed by the governor, one by the state treasurer, one by the state legislature and the remaining eight of which are all elected by teachers.
Mr. Steen was viewed by STRS Ohio Watchdogs as an advocate of reform.
Daniel Tierney, the governor's spokesman, said in a phone interview that Mr. DeWine felt he must remove Mr. Steen because since August, he had been absent from three board meetings and missed "significant portions" of three other meetings. Mr. Tierney said that Mr. DeWine had actually met with Mr. Steen in August to discuss concerns regarding his meeting attendance.
Dean Dennis, a retired teacher who is the president-elect of the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association, said in an email that Mr. DeWine was "misinformed," that Mr. Steen missed one all-day meeting and one shorter meeting that had no votes on the agenda.
"He was removed simply because the last election … finally shifted the power of the board to pro-reformers," Mr. Dennis said. "By removing Steen, DeWine was protecting the status quo and possibly himself by doing a favor … The problem STRS had with Steen was that he exposed the staff-flawed benchmarks in receiving bonuses. He also complained about transparency issues."
Mr. Steen had been with the board since 2016.
"As far as the governor declaring war, the governor usurped the will of the voters who have elected five straight reform minded candidates by replacing Steen with an appointment who likely will shift the power back to the status quo," Mr. Dennis said. "He's running Ohio like a third world country."
Mr. Tierney in an email reiterated that Mr. Steen had missed three meetings entirely on Oct. 20, Nov. 18 and March 15 and missed significant portions of meetings on Dec. 15 , Feb. 16 and April 19.
"As you can see, we are well aware of the context of his absences, and while they may be acceptable to other people, they are in no way acceptable to the Governor, especially when he only has one appointee of 11 members," Mr. Tierney said.
Mr. DeWine replaced Mr. Steen with real estate investor G. Brent Bishop, who served as past president and CEO of Irth Solutions.
"It is not accurate to state that this appointment was predetermined to support the status quo, and there is no basis or voting record for such a statement," Mr. Tierney said. "The appointment was also made after the election but prior to the vote results being made known. This small window was specifically chosen so as to not affect the STRS election nor influence the makeup of the board."
Pat Davidson, a board candidate endorsed by the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association, defeated incumbent board member Arthur Lard in an election completed on May 1. Results were announced on May 6.