Former SC senator, state treasurer trade barbs over pension system

abeam@thestate.comNovember 21, 2013 

Retirement Commission Bullying

South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis at a meeting of the South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

JEFFREY COLLINS — AP

— Former state Sen. Greg Ryberg – now paid $161,000-a-year to run the state’s Retirement System Investment Commission – said Thursday he did not return to state government to battle with state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, who has called the commission’s work “sinful.”

Pointing to a collage of photos showing older people smiling, Ryberg said he is “working to keep the smile on their faces, and combat is not going to achieve that.”

While the 67-year-old retired businessman said he is not seeking a confrontation, Ryberg delivered a clear message to fellow Republican Loftis during his first meeting as the commission’s chief operating officer.

“Backing away when confronted – especially with petty half-truths, non-truths and non-constructive matters – is not an option for me,” Ryberg said, letting his fist fall to the table with a heavy thud.

Thursday’s meeting was just the latest chapter in what the state’s Inspector General’s Office called the “dysfunctional relationship” between the Investment Commission and the state Treasurer’s Office.

Loftis says the Investment Commission is mismanaged, citing $419 million in fees that it paid investment managers during its most recent fiscal year. Those fees equal 1.57 percent of the commission’s managed assets, far more than the 0.57 percent on average paid by other comparable pension funds.

Other commissioners say the fees act as an incentive to maximize earnings by the pension fund, which, at $26.5 billion, is the state’s single largest asset. However, the fund’s earnings remain below the national average.

Ryberg, who has been on the job for six weeks, said he will ask the state Legislature for an additional $1.2 million to hire 15 more employees, a move that he said would “reduce the amount of fees that we pay to external (investment) managers for the same service.”

“I am optimistic about the reception that we might receive from the General Assembly,” Ryberg said.

The Legislature has been hostile to the commission’s previous requests to hire more people. But Ryberg has some reason to be optimistic that this time will be different.

Another office with a lackluster history of winning higher budget appropriations – the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging – received an extra $2 million after former state Sen. Glenn McConnell was elevated to lieutenant governor. Ryberg, a state senator from Aiken for 19 years, could have a similar effect.

Ryberg said he “attempted to begin my tenure on the right foot” by sending a letter to Loftis.

But Thursday, Ryberg launched a litany of thinly veiled criticisms of Loftis, his qualifications and the “damage” his comments – including accusing the commission of “misleading the public” and having staff who “lack a moral core” – have caused.

Investment Commission chairman Reynolds Williams would not let Loftis respond to Ryberg’s comments. But Williams did let commissioner Ed Giobbe praise Ryberg.

Williams told The State newspaper that he let Giobbe speak – and not Loftis – because Giobbe “conducted himself as a responsible adult.”

After the meeting, Loftis accused Ryberg of running the Investment Commission “from his back porch, overlooking the ocean on Sullivan’s Island.”

“He lectures me about being unqualified. I got a million votes of people who said I was qualified,” said Loftis, who received just more than 907,000 votes in the 2010 general election, when he was unopposed.

Williams said Ryberg works in the commission’s Columbia office, accusing Loftis of telling an “unmitigated, bald-faced lie.”

The commission – which oversees the fund that pays retirement benefits to 149,000 former state employees, teachers, public safety officers and local government employees – is not scheduled to meet again until February.

Read full statement by new Investment Commission executive Greg Ryberg

Greg Ryberg's speech to Investment Commission

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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