“The Push is On!” – Divest Oregon Public Launch at September 2021 Oregon Investment Council Meeting

At their September 8, 2021 meeting, the Oregon Investment Council (OIC) noted our “voluminous” public statements submitted as part of the Divest Oregon Campaign launch. They read only one statement in full, did not mention all statements that were submitted, summarized others to their liking, and then ended the meeting 30 minutes early. Their token acknowledgment of the submissions, and their comments below, indicate they are aware and concerned about our Divest Oregon campaign. Success!

The OIC members and Treasurer are now formally aware of the Divest Oregon demands noted in Patty Hine and Deb McGee’s testimonies. While Treasurer Read did not read the three short demands in full it was noted twice that all statements would be sent to the Council members, so he and the OIC now have our demands in hand which we have confirmed.

Other notes:

  • SEIU Local 503 President Mike Powers’ statement was read in full; his statement packs a punch since the SEIU represents many PERS members.
  • Our public comments were referenced throughout the meeting as described below.
  • On behalf of the coalition, after the meeting we sent an email to the OIC Investment Operations manager to ask why all comments were not acknowledged and why they weren’t read in full. We received a prompt response from Chief Investment Officer Rex Kim saying: “I’m sorry you were frustrated by the public comment section of our September Oregon Investment Council meeting….Bottom line: what we told you to expect didn’t happen, and I’m sorry for that.”

The OIC acknowledged that they are investing public funds, the public is watching, and they need to take a stand (OIC meeting recorded audio). Here is an exchange between OIC Member Wilhoite, OIC Chair Russell, and Chief Investment Officer Kim: 

  • Wilhoite: “It’s a challenge when we hear discussion about ESG… that we are a state division.  When the public looks at us, they expect to hold ESG platforms at the highest level.  When we talk about our investments and our returns to liabilities to PERS — there’s a natural conflict between highest returns and adhering to social values in equity and social justice that a state agency is held to. What is our position as an agency in regards to ESG?  Where are we going to stand? … I don’t know if we have the privilege or luxury of going in or out (of an investment)? Are we on a straight line to ESG? …  What is our position and how do we hold to it? … We will continue to hear public comments about our positions.  Do we have a path? And can we stick to a path to cover our obligations?”
  • Kim: Our approach is we want to be aware, we don’t want to be overly constrained.  That’s the same for private managers.  We want to be aware of how they think about ESG and don’t overly constrain them.
  • Wilhoit: “No easy good answer.  Where do we end up?”
  • Russell:  “Having previewed the public comments that we will read or synthesize, that may illuminate what our state should do.”

The OIC is aware that they don’t have a response to our demands and considers us “detractors.” (We would prefer to be considered “catalysts” for action that will benefit both the OIC and the State in the long run.) Here is an exchange between Treasurer Read and OIC Member Wilhoite:

  • Read: We have increased visible metrics of the treasury. We are on a journey. We have taken some significant steps. We’re far from done. We have made commitments – concrete steps both visible and less visible. We are better off.  
  • Wilhoite: “The push is on. How far and by when? It’s challenging. It’s easy for the detractors to want movement to renewable energy. That’s my question. How far and by when? When we look at the whole picture and we look at ourselves internally? What are we putting on paper?…  If we see movement and see movement towards our goals we can say proudly and we know we are moving in the right direction.  The questions are still going to be how far and by when. The question is obvious. … I want responsibility and accountability where we put it on ourselves. … We have real money at the state (to make change). …  It’s too easy for people who are detractors to say ‘not moving fast enough, you have no goals and objectives and no timeline.’ I’m asking the Treasurer and the whole team, how do we respond and want to respond to that?”

ESG is seen as a critical issue that needs governance input and shouldn’t be discussed just once a year (as listed in upcoming meeting topics). Chair Russell suggested an OIC board retreat to discuss such matters.

  • OIC Member Samples: “Our agendas are set far in advance. When there are issues we want to move forward — we want to stay informed and be involved. We are scheduled to discuss ESG again next year — we’re not addressing it as a council for an entire year — not what any of us would want. How do we move council items and governance forward?”

The Treasury is hiring the following:

  • an ESG Education Consultant (Manifest) to provide “educational services and bespoke consulting services to help clients define and implement a climate governance and risk management framework. They will be training Treasury staff.”
  • an ESG Modeling Solutions Consultant (Ortec Finance) to “design and apply modeling solutions to assess the Oregon Treasury asset-liability management, risk management, and climate risk.”