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The sign on Colorado PERA headquarters in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver on Sept. 18, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The fired head of Colorado’s $60 billion-plus public pension system will receive a year’s salary — more than $400,000 — as severance, under his contract and because of the way his employment was terminated. 

Ron Baker was fired May 1 by the 16-member Public Employees’ Retirement Association board nearly two months after he went on a leave of absence

Neither the board nor PERA has disclosed why Baker was fired, and Colorado Sun attempts over the past several months to contact Baker have been unsuccessful. Emails, texts and voicemail messages to Baker from The Sun, including for this story, were not returned.

Baker will get $412,108.80 in severance because the board terminated his contract without cause. Had he been fired for cause, he wouldn’t have been eligible to collect the severance. 

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Baker’s contract says he could only be fired for cause if there was a breach of his employment agreement, for gross negligence, or if he had committed or pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony criminal charge. The contract says he could also be fired for cause for “wilfully engaging in any activity which is contrary to the best interest of the association (for) which activity is uncured by the executive for a reasonable period of time after he receives written notice concerning such activity.”  

A majority vote of the PERA board is all that’s needed under Baker’s contract to terminate his employment without cause, though that entitles him to 30 days notice and a severance payment of a year’s salary. The board met in closed executive session for more than six hours May 1 before voting unanimously to fire Baker. 

Under the contract, Baker would have been eligible for a retention bonus equal to five months’ pay — or about $170,000 — if he was still employed by PERA on Sept. 30. The five-year employment contract was also set to expire at that date. 

Patrick von Keyserling, a spokesman for PERA, said the board will form an ad hoc search committee to select Baker’s replacement. 

Ron Baker, executive director of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association. (Handout)

“They have not yet met to do so and have not set a time period for the search,” he said.

Amy McGarrity, PERA’s chief operating officer and chief investment officer, is serving as acting executive director. She assumed that role when Baker went on leave March 8. 

Baker was hired as executive director in 2018 and was responsible for PERA’s operations and its “strategy implementation,” according to the organization.

Baker started working at the organization in 1994 and was chief administrative officer before taking on the top job. He became a member of PERA’s executive leadership team in 2009.

There are about 150,000 people who receive PERA benefits in Colorado and more than 200,000 people actively contributing to the pension system, according to the organization’s 2021 annual report. The employees of more than 500 government agencies and public entities in Colorado receive retirement and other benefits from PERA.

The Colorado legislature has pumped hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into PERA in recent years to shore up the pension system, which has a large unfunded financial liability to its members. The liability was $27.2 billion as of Dec. 31, 2021, down $3.8 billion from the previous year, the annual report said.

PERA is a constant focus for the legislature because pension benefits are considered one of the biggest perks of being a government employee in Colorado.

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Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...