Politics & Government

SC pension chief quits; Loftis storms out

State Treasurer Curtis Loftis cussed out a state official last month, that executive said. Darry Oliver resigned in protest Friday, and the Retirement System Investment Commission immediately replaced him with former state Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, who will be paid a $161,000 salary.

Oliver, who had only been on the job as the Investment Commission’s chief operating officer for seven months, resigned after saying Loftis cursed at him during a Sept. 30 phone call.

“I can no longer put up with the games, hypocrisy and abusive bullying tactics by the treasurer,” Oliver wrote in an email to commission chairman Reynolds Williams shortly after the phone call with Loftis. “I was put into a toxic position as (chief operating officer) and have been in firefighting mode since Day 1. I refuse to take these personal attacks.”

Loftis said Oliver’s statement “is false.”

In one of several news releases that he issued Friday, the Lexington Republican said Oliver threatened him, telling Loftis: “I’m coming after you with everything I have.”

The commission sided with Oliver. It agreed to accept his resignation, and authorized Williams to “negotiate a good-faith settlement of possible legal claims between (the commission) and Mr. Oliver.”

The commission then approved an “anti-bullying policy” that would apply to commissioners and commission staff. And it hired Ryberg, one of Loftis’ bitter enemies while he served in the state Senate. Ryberg and Loftis had a shouting match at a Senate subcommittee hearing, and Ryberg also tried to remove Loftis from the Investment Commission.

“Greg Ryberg was hired because he knows the Investment Commission better than any other person that would be qualified to fill this job,” Williams said. “He helped write the law that created the (commission).”

Loftis and the commission, which manages the $26 billion retirement fund for state workers, have been at war since Loftis began criticizing the commission, saying it made too many risky investments and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary fees. The feud has devolved into a power struggle between Williams, the commission’s chairman and an appointee of Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Loftis, the Tea Party-backed Republican treasurer who has taken a normally quiet office and used it as a bullhorn for change.

Loftis and Williams have accused each other of using their public offices for personal gain, leading to a pair of SLED investigations. (The Loftis investigation resulted in no charges. The Williams investigation still is pending.) Both also have tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the other from the commission.

Most recently, Loftis criticized the commission for handing out $1.4 million in bonuses to some commission staff members – bonuses that have attracted the attention of some state lawmakers, who are planning to investigate.

“I’m on Team Loftis on this one,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the investment commission’s budget.

Friday’s meeting was especially tense, with Williams using a gavel to silence Loftis before the treasurer walked out in protest, exiting between two armed police officers who were standing by the door.

“There is an old saying, ‘Have you beaten your wife today?’ There is no way to answer that question,” Loftis told the commission before walking out. “There is no due process. There has been no investigation.”

In February, the commission censured Loftis for “engaging in false, misleading and deceitful rhetoric.” And Williams had harsh words Friday for Loftis.

“We do not expect our people to endure being called names that I’m not going to say,” Williams told reporters after the meeting. “It is not permissible to live in an insane asylum where, unfortunately, one of the insane people helps run it.”

After the meeting, Williams assured retirees “their assets are secure and the returns (earned by the pension system) are reasonable.”

Sam Griswold, the past president of the State Retirees Association of South Carolina, agreed.

“I still have confidence in the commission,” Griswold said. “They are doing the best they can with retirees, and we are very pleased with that. What we are not pleased with is the element of conflict the treasurer seems to be injecting constantly into this situation.”

Investment Commission emails