TEXPERS executive director to retire after more than a decade advocating for defined benefits
After more than 10 years as the executive director of the Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems, Max Patterson is retiring. He announced his upcoming retirement during TEXPERS' annual membership business meeting, held April 15. The business meeting took place during the association's yearly conference, which was held this year on South Padre Island April 15-18.
By Allen Jones, TEXPERS Communications Manager
Although Patterson will retire this year, a specific date is pending the association's search for his replacement. Patterson says he hopes to retire after August but will stick around to help acclimate whomever the board hires to the executive director position.
Patterson, who turns 74 in June, says he wants to spend more time with his three youngest grandchildren and travel to Seattle to visit his son.
Paul Brown, TEXPERS president, says Patterson has led the nonprofit organization into the future.
“He has been acknowledged nationally by international pension alliance CORPaTH and state affiliates such as the Illinois Public Pension Fund Association for his dedication to public employee retirement systems,” he says.
During his time with TEXPERS, Patterson focused on enhancing the basic level training for trustees and improving the quality of education sessions offered the association's two main conferences for its members. Among his accomplishments is his leading membership efforts to kill three different state legislative bills during the last three sessions that were detrimental to public pensions in Texas.
“I can't take full credit,” he says. “There was a lot of help. I sort of took the lead on the effort to squash the bills. The bills were proposed during different legislative sessions. I was told we were not going to be successful because one was drafted by the chair of a major committee. We managed to stop it.”
Lately, public employee pensions have been under political scrutiny due to the underfunded status of many plans. Plans in the cities of Houston and Dallas have especially experienced problems, which made some state legislators question the viability of defined-benefits for public employees during the recent 2017 legislative session. During his time with TEXPERS, Patterson says he has seen attacks on public pensions worse than what is occurring now. However, he adds, what he is observing now is a sustained and calculated attack on public-sector retirement plans lead by multi-million dollar organizations such as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation that are hoping to dismantle public pensions and replace them with less secure, 401(k)-like contribution plans.
Patterson believes some system members have become complacent in defending public pensions from political attacks. He likens the arena of public employee pensions to a game of football.
“Our side has been playing defense,” Patterson says. “Public pension systems need to do more offensive work. If public pensions continue to play defense only, we are going to lose the game.”
He says some public pension plans are doing okay in funding their retirement systems. Those doing well, however, are failing to recognize that all of Texas' pension systems are tied together. Those plans, he says, that are struggling in the proper operations of their funds can pull all others down.
“In a football game, all it takes is one person to bring the whole team down,” Patterson says. “The players must work together to make the team stronger. With our 70-plus pension systems, all it takes is one bad or failing system to damage all the systems. Two bad systems and people start to question the viability of all the systems. When three or four bad/failing systems occur, you have the legislature seriously debating the viability of the continuation of defined-benefit systems as we know them.”
Patterson's military background influences his management style. He spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserve including three years on active duty. Most of that time working as a counterintelligence officer. He received three Bronze Stars (two in Vietnam), the U.S. Army Commendation Medal for Valor serving in Vietnam, and the Meritorious Service Medal. He also is a lifetime member of the Reserve Officers Association.
He admires Gen. George S. Patton, the senior officer of the U.S. Army who commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean and European theaters of World War II.
“Gen. Patton focused on the end goal,” Patterson says. “Get the job done. Focus on the end results and do whatever it takes.”
In addition to his military career, Patterson has worked with local retirement funds, worked for the city of Houston, and worked in various other branches of local government. His entire career has been in the public sector working in local government.
Before joining TEXPERS, he was the executive director of the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund. He joined the fund after working for the City of Houston's finance and administration department as a deputy director. During his career with the city, he was appointed city treasurer and fiduciary on the city's three pension funds.
Before working for the city of Houston, Patterson was an assistant city manager in Beaumont. His resume also includes working as a police chief in the town of Windsor, Connecticut. He also spent time working as a police chief in Albion, Michigan.
Also, Patterson served on the executive board of the Government Finance Officers Association and had served as an advisor to the Committee on Retirement and Benefits Administration. He is president of Texans for Secure Retirement, a nonprofit group of public employees and retirees concerned about the prospects for public and private sector employee retirement security. He also is an active member of the Galleria River Oaks Rotary Club, a Houston-area chapter of an international humanitarian service organization of business and professional leaders. And, he will soon start his third year as an assistant governor of Rotary district 5890, a role he will continue to have in retirement. The district consists of 62 clubs and more than 3,000 members.
He may be leaving TEXPERS, but Patterson doesn't sound as if he is going to live a quiet life of retirement.
“I plan to remain active with the Rotary Club as well as with the Episcopal church I belong to,” he says. “I will continue to work with Rotary and will probably continue to work with the Texans for Secure Retirement.”