After weeks of hearings, an apology

Greenville NewsMarch 5, 2014 

Senator Joel Lourie

— After weeks of testimony, a co-chairman of a Senate panel looking at the agency managing the investments for the state’s $28 billion pension fund is apologizing to the agency for all the trouble the hearings have caused.

Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat and co-chairman of the Senate panel examining the state Retirement Systems Investment Commission, made his remarks after testimony concluded Tuesday of commission staff and its chairman.

“When statements are made questioning people’s morals and ethics, I find those statements highly disturbing and irresponsible,” he said. “I’m sorry you and your team have been put through this. I think it’s very disturbing.”

Lourie didn’t name who he was talking about but said it was a member of the commission.

State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a member of the commission, has long criticized the commission’s management of the fund, arguing that the investment fees are too high and the performance of the investments too low.

Though he is a member of the commission, he has often been at odds with other commissioners and been accused by the agency’s chief operations officer of making repeated misstatements in testimony to the Senate panel.

Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican and co-chair of the panel, told a commission official that it seemed unfair for someone to criticize the commission but not propose a better way of doing things.

Members of the Senate panel also praised commission Chairman Reynolds Williams on Tuesday after he answered questions about two probes last year that found no criminal wrongdoing.

Williams and his Florence law firm were examined by the State Law Enforcement Division and the State Ethics Commission last year following disclosure that his firm received about $150,000, according to Loftis, for title work done for a company that partnered with the commission for a real estate investment, American Timberlands.

Williams said he disclosed his firm’s involvement and recused himself from the commission’s vote on the investment, which he said amounts to more than $20 million. He said his partner in the firm has represented the company for many years and the firm represented the American Timberlands before the commission ever existed.

Loftis publicly called for an investigation of the deal and said at the time he thought Williams should be removed from the board.

When Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office closed the case last year without any charges, Loftis issued a statement saying he believed that was because Wilson didn’t use subpoenas or sworn testimony.

Senators on the panel looking at the commission said they were satisfied with Williams’ explanations.

“This is a non-issue and a waste of our time and the chairman’s time,” Bryant told Williams. “I’m glad we brought it out in the open. But I don’t know why we need to waste any more time. Not only did the chairman do the right thing but he went further than the law requires.”

Lourie said the records show Loftis making the motion to approve the investment with the company at issue.

“When your ethics come into question, I’m sure it’s troubling for you and your family,” he said.

“We appreciate you coming before us and once again setting the record straight. I think as far as the three of us are concerned, our questions are answered. We regret you had to go through this ordeal.”

Sen. Ray Cleary, a Georgetown Republican, apologized to Williams that his name was brought up in the hearings.

“If someone wants to make a statement they can do it but they don’t need to bring names up,” he said. “They shouldn’t even do it if the person has been cleared.”

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