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Troubled Chicago Teachers Pension Fund has new leadership

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The troubled Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund has named a new executive director.

Carlton W. Lenoir Sr. has been tapped for the role after a national search. He will start early next month. For the past five years he has been the chief benefits officer at the Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois, and he started his career at CTPF as an accounts counselor.

The $12.9 billion CTPF is the oldest in Illinois, serving 89,000 members and more than 24,000 retirees and 3,000 beneficiaries. According to its most recent annual financial report, its unfunded liability is over $12 billion, and its funded ratio is roughly 47 percent.

The board has had a tumultuous few months that Mayor Lori Lightfoot described as “troubling.” Its last permanent executive director, Mary Cavallaro, resigned last February after only a few months on the job, saying she could “no longer tolerate the chaos and toxicity of the boardroom, along with the vile disrespect and insults directed toward me, the leadership team and the hard-working staff of the fund by certain misinformed trustees.”

Three board members—all women of color—were censured at the board’s May 2021 meeting for “aggressive, hostile, unprofessional (or) disrespectful” behavior toward fellow trustees or fund employees. Another board member, Mary Sharon Reilly, was reprimanded for directing a “unprofessional and racially offensive statement . . . at another Trustee at a Board of Trustees meeting.”  

After Cavallaro resigned, the board’s president, Jeffery Blackwell was then made interim executive director, the fund’s top staff job, drawing rebukes from some in Springfield.

Last year, Blackwell in a public meeting decried CTPF’s “culture of intimidation, intentional misinformation, discrimination, slander, misogyny, fear mongering, blatant racism, sexism and retaliatory actions.” He also charged that the agency had been under pressure to hire lobbyists close to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

The majority of the 12-member board is elected by members of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Lenoir, 49, is a graduate of Whitney Young High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from American Intercontinental University and a law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. He is a certified retirement plan administrator and employee benefit specialist.

“I have always had a desire to serve the public school system. It is where I got my start and that played a major role in my career development. When I left CTPF in 2005, I believe it was to prepare for this opportunity,” Lenoir said in a press release. “I deeply understand and appreciate the need to protect and enhance the future economic well-being of members and beneficiaries through best practices in management, investments, and member services.”

In that release, Blackwell said it had been an honor to serve as interim executive director and “the Trustees are pleased to welcome Mr. Lenoir back to the Fund. He has dedicated his career to public service and has extensive experience administering public pension funds. His senior-level financial experience coupled with his institutional knowledge, operational expertise, strategic background and collaborative style will serve the fund well.”

“Mr. Lenoir has a tremendous skillset, and I am confident that he is the right leader to carry us forward and continue this important work,” Blackwell said in the release.

Lenoir’s CTPF salary has not been finalized.