The chairman of the state’s $25 billion Retirement Investment Commission voted to support a criminal investigation of himself Thursday but voted against removing himself as chairman during a bizarre and contentious meeting.
Reynolds Williams said he would not step aside as chairman while the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating whether he used his position to steer state business to two companies that he has a financial interest in. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, whose allegations prompted the investigation, then called for a vote to oust Williams. The vote failed in a 3-3 tie.
Joining Williams in opposing his removal were commissioners James Powers, an appointee of Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, and Ed Giobbe, an appointee of Gov. Nikki Haley. Voting with Loftis were commissioners Allen Gillespie, an appointee of House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, and Travis Pritchett, the retiree representative who was voted in by the other commissioners.
“Today was important because it did put everybody on the record,” Loftis said. “So now we know where we are.”
Stepping into this controversy is 42-year-old Herschel Harper, who was hired as the commission’s new chief investment officer. Harper will oversee the retirement fund’s investments, which make up the majority of the fund’s earnings. He also will have to help resolve a crisis that Powers said has caused the commission to “(lose) the public trust.”
Harper, who has been on the commission staff for 41/2 years, said he is not concerned.
“For me, it’s all about continuing to work for what we’re focused on and that is for the retirees, and doing everything we can to find a good common ground with respect to how the commission is working,” he said.
Priority No. 1 for Harper will be to resolve the dispute between Williams, appointed to the commission by Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, and Loftis over who can review the commission’s investment contracts. The contracts, with private investment firms, include confidentiality agreements. Those agreements prevent Loftis from having his staff help him review the documents. Williams said the commission has a competent staff that is allowed to read the documents and can answer any questions Loftis may have.
Thursday, Loftis again threatened to block any future investments in the pension system — an option that is available to him as the state treasurer — unless his staff is allowed to read the documents. “It’s a good chance that is going to happen,” Loftis said
Williams says Loftis cannot block the investments. “Not funding an authorized investment would be a breach of his fiduciary duty.”
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.