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STICK WITH FINANCE FUNDAMENTALS

State's $266M gone in 2 years - Sept. 6, story

Kudos to reporter Sydney P. Freedberg. The story is riveting and heartbreaking. A fortune in retirement hopes, and the dreams of countless Florida families, went up in smoke and mirrors on a single sketchy real estate deal. What now for what's left in Florida's hundred billion dollar pension fund?

It is commendable that the fund's trustees, Gov. Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, responded to the Manhattan meltdown by resolving to engage, regularly and in public, with their investment advisers. It is an example all investors should follow.

The trustees can and should model for all Floridians the "holy trinity" of behaviors common to successful investors: rigorous due diligence, contrarian research, and clear exit strategy.

The unfortunate Manhattan project is a textbook example of how not to "do" diligence. As Freedberg reported, the state's $200,000-a-year real estate "analysts" knew less about the multimillion dollar merchandise than a high school kid buying sneakers. Instead, they regurgitated the seller's self-serving and altogether delusional sales pitch.

A contrarian approach to research begins with a healthy and historically sound skepticism of conventional wisdom such as "you can't lose in Manhattan real estate." The crowd mentality and groupthink that prevailed in 2006 - that real estate was somehow immune from market cycles and would go up forever - led Florida's money managers to ignore such basic red flags as the conflicts of interest Freedberg reported.

While pension funds are typically longer-term investors, the horizon for meeting future obligations is getting shorter and shorter. The third part of wise investing - clear exit strategy - is more important than ever as baby boomers retire in droves.

If the trustees continue to demonstrate the tried and true principles of due diligence, contrarian research, and clear exit strategy in a continuing public conversation involving fund managers and citizens on whose behalf the investments are made, the Manhattan mess may be remembered as the beginning of a saner, more sustainable financial future for Florida's retirees.

Rainford Knight, PhD., adjunct professor of finance, Florida Atlantic University

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State's $266M gone in 2 years - Sept. 6, story

When results are bad, process needs review

It's clear that Ash Williams, the state's executive director of the pension fund, either has not learned any lessons from this or he's deflecting responsibility for the loss of millions of dollars from Florida's pension fund. His implication that the loss was unavoidable, stating that "good processes can produce bad results," is absurd. If a "process" returns an unwanted outcome then the process cannot be a "good process." It (the process) should be reviewed to determine what revisions need to be made.

From the article it doesn't sound as though the board followed a process but that the lack of accountability and control caused an unnecessary and avoidable outcome.

Glenn Counts, Tampa

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"You lie!" New low or new standard?Sept. 11, story

A lack of statesmen

Sadly I believe it's both. Gone are the statesmen of my early political days, people like Sam Nunn, Tip O'Neill, Wendell Ford or Bob Graham, to name a few. They have been replaced with childish ideologists, unwilling to accept a loss or a differing opinion.

Rep. Joe Wilson's actions are inexcusable. He is a disgrace to himself and Congress.

Jim Stout, Dade City

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Health care and illegals

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, estimates that 6.6 million illegal immigrants could be covered by the House health care reform bill, HR 3200.

Camarota writes: "Even though HR 3200 states that illegal immigrants are not eligible for the proposed taxpayer-funded affordable premium credits, there is nothing in the bill to enforce this. An amendment was defeated in committee that would have required the use of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, used by almost all other means-tested programs of this kind."

Chris Dowling, Largo

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The president's education address

Politics shouldn't intrude

Viewing the president's remarks to the students of the nation and Pinellas County, I am deeply impressed by the words spoken to encourage, motivate and inspire our students. President Barack Obama's words not only gave a sense of hope to students who may be struggling but also encouraged all students to find their purpose and to challenge their own abilities to be the best they can be.

It is very encouraging to see our president take an interest in education not only in word but in deed. The stimulus money given by the federal government and increased allocation for IDEA and Title I funding have given our school system the ability to continue providing educational services for our students without laying off instructional support.

However, it is also deeply concerning that remarks made by many opponents of the president's current policies have caused a message spoken to give confidence to our students to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. The decision to allow the opt-out provision with an excused absence was made by the district administration and not a decision that was discussed with the board.

The national political climate and debate should not be allowed to impinge on a nonpolitical educational address. The president of the United States should be given our respect and support. While we should be strong advocates for our causes, we should do so in a way that promotes decency and respect for mankind and the political process.

Nina Hayden, member, Pinellas County School Board, Clearwater

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President's education address

Lost opportunity

The teachers, administrators and staff of the schools often lament that our society does not place enough value on education. "We need to elevate the value of education in our society," they say.

I agree. And the intent of the president's speech was just that: to highlight the importance of education and encourage students to work hard, no excuses. This is just what teachers beg for!

But when it came to showing the president's speech, the schools equivocated and hedged. My son's teacher at a Pinellas County public school chose not to show the speech. The schools had an opportunity to take a stand for education and they let it go in favor of protecting themselves - just like many politicians do!

Sadly, as long as politics continues to trump education, even in schools, I don't think we will see much change in the value of education in our society.

Kim Wells, St. Petersburg

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Capitol gains and losses - Sept. 6

Who is served?

Your article in last week's Perspective, covering the large net worths of Florida's top elected officials, representatives and senators made me wonder whose interests are being served here.

Judging by Florida's current homeowners insurance scandal; excessively high electric power rates and real estate taxes; combined with high unemployment and low wages, it is absolutely clear that it is not the working people.

Michael Forson, St. Petersburg

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Guess who doesn't trust government? Sept. 6, commentary

A flawed system

How is it possible to trust government, as noted by Charles M. Blow, if the Congress is inundated with political contributions from the health insurance and drug industries? Of course, part of the problem, besides contributions, is our confined two-party system. Another factor is the length of our elections.

A third party may be difficult to form, although there are enough independent voters, but can't we reduce the time required for elections and thus the expense and even the amount of the contributions?

W.H. Riddell, Tampa

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The normal woman on page 194Sept. 6, Perspective story

Showing too much

Oh, good. Now we can look forward to nudes in the newspaper under the guise of letting women know they can be comfortable in their skin.

Keep pushing the envelope, St. Pete Times.

C. Foley, Dunedin

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