Column: Ryberg right choice for commission post
The recent appointment of former Sen. Greg Ryberg as chief operating officer of the South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission was a shrewd move on the Commission’s part. Ryberg’s business sense and political experience are needed on the Commission, which has been rocked by infighting between State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, one of the commissioners, and the rest of the Commission.
Established in 2005, the commission is responsible for investing and managing the assets of the South Carolina Retirement System. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Ryberg helped author the legislation creating the commission. His being present at the creation is an additional plus in his role as chief operating officer.
The commission is governed by seven commissioners, five appointed by the Budget and Control Board (including Treasurer Loftis), the director of the Public Employee Benefit Authority and a retired member of the System.
While Chief Investment Officer Hershel Harper manages the Commission’s day-to-day investment functions, Ryberg manages the back-office support functions as the agency head of the Commission. Responsibilities include reporting, legal, information technology and administrative functions. He also serves as general spokesman and represents the Commission before the South Carolina General Assembly.
In short, the position is tailor-made for Ryberg’s talents and capabilities.
The major challenge facing the Commission is the $15.6 billion unfunded liability between its $25.2 billion in assets and its $40.8 billion actuarial liability. The Commission is looking for an annual return of 7.5 percent to close this gap.
How best to achieve this 7.5 percent return is the basis of the ongoing conflict between Loftis and the rest of the Commission. Loftis has also leveled charges of incompetence and corruption against the Commission and claimed that members withheld information he needed to perform his fiduciary duties.
This dispute culminated in a 37-page complaint from the State Treasurer’s office to the State Inspector General in April.
The resulting inspector general’s report, addressing several of the issues raised, concluded that “no criminal conduct or wrongdoing was uncovered in the six issues reviewed.” The report, however, included recommendations for improvement at the Commission.
The report can be accessed at the inspector general’s website.
The inspector general noted that, “Each side has a rational basis for their position, but bringing both perspectives into the same conversation without a combative tone for the public to understand has fallen far short.”
According to the inspector general, the relationship between Loftis and the Commission is “polarized, distrusting, and skeptical” and is characterized by “public falsehoods, personal attacks, and assaults on professional reputations.”
As an example of this polarization, the Commission censured Loftis in February for “false, deceitful and misleading rhetoric.” And last week, the South Carolina Attorney General’s office announced it was dropping an investigation into allegations against Commission Chairman Reynolds Williams.
Darry Oliver, Ryberg’s predecessor as chief operating officer, resigned on Oct. 11 amid the fracas. Oliver claimed he was bullied by Loftis, which Loftis denied, and the Commission responded by enacting an “anti-bullying” policy.
Despite this ongoing controversy surrounding the agency, Ryberg is eager to serve in his new role.
“I’m encouraged by the caliber of the staff,” Ryberg said after his first week on board. “The personnel are of the highest quality and not easily replaced. Our game plan is sound, and we’ll get the Commission back on track.”
Ryberg wants to keep the Commission’s staff productive, focused on maximizing returns undistracted by controversy. “The Commission was originally set up to be non-partisan,” he said. “Now it’s too political.”
Sen. Shane Massey, who served in the legislature with Ryberg, is pleased with this appointment. “Ryberg is a terrific pick for the Commission,” Massey said. “He authored much of the legislation governing the Commission, and he understands retirement issues better than anyone else. He won’t be bullied by anyone.”
Ryberg’s reputation for integrity and tenacity in the face of opposition was a hallmark of his 20 years in the S.C. Senate. In terms of bringing operational excellence and implementing improvements to this critical agency, it’s difficult imagining a better choice.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.