COLUMBIA, S.C. — The chief operating officer of the agency that invests South Carolina's pension portfolio asked legislators Tuesday to somehow end hostilities between the agency and state Treasurer Curtis Loftis that are harming the fund.
Greg Ryberg, a former senator, accused Loftis of waging a war against the Retirement System Investment Commission with inaccurate accusations.
"The system we put into place is on the verge of destruction precisely because of personal politics," Ryberg, whom the commission hired last fall after his predecessor quit, told a Senate panel looking into Loftis' accusations. "The situation is actually absurd. I can't fix it alone."
Loftis countered that his public criticisms since taking office in 2011 are nothing personal, saying he takes his role as an elected advocate for retirees and taxpayers very seriously.
"It is a shame that Mr. Ryberg would falsely characterize our efforts to reduce investment costs, better our investment performance, and make state government more transparent and accountable as a personal vendetta," he said.
Senators on the panel say there's little the Legislature can do about personality conflicts. The treasurer is an elected statewide officer.
"What can the Legislature do to make adults sit down and work together? Very little," said Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, a co-chairman of the panel.
But the subcommittee may suggest changes to the 2005 law creating the commission. Bryant said possibilities include adding members and putting in term limits — which Loftis has recommended — as well as requiring the treasurer or his representative to have financial experience.
The panel, which began hearings in December, expects to issue a report in the coming weeks on its findings of the $27 billion fund that provides public workers' pensions, including the retirees of state agencies, local governments and schools.
Before Ryberg retired from the Senate in 2012, he tried unsuccessfully to force Loftis to appoint someone to the commission in his stead, as other lawmakers do. The treasurer is the only elected official on the investment panel, and the only one not required to have a background in finance. The Senate voted 34-10 to kill Ryberg's proposed amendment.
The subcommittee may revisit that background requirement, but not make it effective until 2018, "so it's nothing personal," Bryant said.
Loftis is seeking re-election this year.
"At the end of the day, what matters the most is this fund meets its responsibilities to the people of South Carolina. A half a million lives will be affected by the stability of the fund," said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, the panel's other co-chairman. "We're trying to stay out as much as possible of the personality conflicts."
Earlier this month, the State Ethics Commission dismissed conflict-of-interest allegations against the commission's chairman, ending state investigations launched in 2012 at Loftis' request. Attorney General Alan Wilson dropped his criminal probe last October.
The increasing animosity between Loftis and the rest of the commission also led to an unprecedented lawsuit at the state Supreme Court last year, as well as an investigation by state Inspector General Patrick Maley, at Loftis' request. Maley's report last July found no criminal conduct or deceptive practices by the commission. But he wrote he'd never seen such a toxic, distrustful relationship between two organizations.