Mayoral appointee Scott Heldfond resigned from prior city commission for perceived conflict of interest
Capping months of insider speculation, Mayor London Breed opted against reappointing longtime retirement board member Wendy Paskin-Jordan, instead picking insurance executive Scott Heldfond.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to place Heldfond onto the seven-member retirement board, which controls the city’s roughly $23 billion pension system.
Heldfond is a director with the New York Stock Exchange-listed Aon Risk Services, and has held this position while he simultaneously has served on several prior San Francisco commissions, including the board for the San Francisco Health Service System (HSS).
In fact, citing what he characterized as a “perception” problem on Sept. 1, 2011, Heldfond resigned from his post on the Health Service commission after his employer, Aon, obtained a contract with the same San Francisco Health Service System where he served as a commissioner.
“I have no economic or personal interest in the award of this contract and, in fact, I had never met the team that won the business for consulting. The City Attorney’s Ethics team feels that whilst my involvement may be totally proper, the perception could be a problem. I do not want to cause your office or the HSS any possible problems,” he wrote then-Mayor Ed Lee in 2011.
Breed’s appointment of Heldfond to the city’s retirement board could create a new “perception” problem. As recently as 2016, Heldfond’s employer, Aon, bid on a San Francisco Employee Retirement System Request For Proposal to determine which financial institution would become the third party administrator for employees’ supplemental pension.
Placing any high-level, active insurance executive on the retirement board could bring about such problems, as that person will be in the position of voting on contracts potentially heading to his or her colleagues in the field, let alone his or her own company.
Paskin-Jordan told Mission Local that she was informed by the mayor’s office that they did not believe she had the votes in the Board of Supervisors to survive the nomination process. She found this hard to believe — it would require the “no” votes of eight supervisors to bounce her.
She claims that she subsequently spoke to 10 supervisors — Matt Haney was purportedly unavailable — and received support from all of them. Even then, she was not reappointed by the mayor.
The mayor’s office “wants a fourth vote,” Paskin-Jordan said. “For whatever they want to get passed. I have been tough on them and not let them use [the pension fund] as a piggy bank, and made sure it’s being used for appropriate measures.”
Per sources close to the retirement board, the mayor has not yet requested the City Attorney to prepare a “conflicts report” on Heldfond to verify he has no outstanding conflicts of interest. Calls to the mayor’s office have not yet been returned. The City Attorney’s liaison to the retirement system, Robert Bryan, declined to be interviewed.
The retirement board is composed of seven commissioners. The president, Brian Stansbury, is a sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. Al Casciato is a retired cop and Joe Driscoll is a retired firefighter. Those three are elected by city pensioners and current employees. Two commissioners are appointed by the mayor — along with the current appointee Heldfond, the other is Leona Bridges, a former Barclay’s managing director. The other two spots are held by the city’s assessor (Carmen Chu) and a designated member of the Board of Supervisors (Ahsha Safaí).
It would take the “no” votes of eight supervisors to keep Heldfond off the retirement board. That appears somewhat far-fetched. While Paskin-Jordan had, on multiple occasions, spurned the Board of Supervisors’ wishes that the pension fund divest from fossil fuel, Heldfond has indicated he would support such a move.
When asked to gauge Heldfond’s chances, one supe said: “He said the magic word: Divestment.”