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By Tim Smith, Greenville News


COLUMBIA-The executive director of the State Employees Association says his members are "not happy" with the selection of former Sen. Greg Ryberg to become the acting chief operating officer of the agency overseeing investments for the state's $27 billion pension fund.

Carlton Washington, who heads the employees association, which also includes retirees, told The Greenville News that employees are concerned about Ryberg because of the senator's past positions on retirement issues.

A spokesman for State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a member of the state Retirement Systems Investment Commission, which hired Ryberg on Friday, said Loftis is concerned with the speed with which Ryberg was hired and that it appeared a "recruitment" of Ryberg took place before Friday's meeting.

Ryberg issued a statement in response. "My sole focus in this role is ensuring that the investment staff have what they need to perform at the highest level," he said. "I left politics when I left the Senate, and I have no interest in returning to politics."

Sen. Thomas Alexander of Walhalla, chairman of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, said he has a "high regard" for Ryberg.

"If you are going to bring someone in on an acting basis with his background and knowledge, he could certainly be at the forefront and up and going in a very timely manner," he said. "We have not always seen eye to eye on things but we worked very closely and I have a high regard for him."

Ryberg was hired after the commission's chairman alleged that Loftis berated and used profanity with the former COO for the agency, Darry Oliver, causing him to resign. Loftis has denied the accusation, alleging Oliver was "belligerent" and threatening in a Sept. 30 phone call between the two.

Loftis left Friday's meeting shortly after it began, complaining that he wasn't being given due process in any hearing of the allegations.

The commissioners met for two hours behind closed doors, then passed motions to accept Oliver's resignation and to authorize the settlement of any possible legal claims by Oliver against the commission. They also passed an anti-bullying policy.

The board also passed a motion to hire Ryberg as acting COO, waiving any search process because of a desire to have the position filled as quickly as possible.

Commission Chairman Reynolds Williams said afterward that Ryberg was hired to the $161,000-a-year job in part because of his intimate knowledge with the issue of the pension fund as the former chairman of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry committee.

Carlton Washington, executive director of the State Employees Association, said news of Ryberg's hiring has sparked a "huge" number of phone calls by employees.

He said state employees disagreed with Ryberg's position on the composition of the Public Employee Benefit Authority board, which oversees the retirement system but not the investments of the fund. He said employees also disagreed with Ryberg's position on how much employees should pay for health insurance fee increases.

Washington said two years ago, when rumors circulated that Ryberg might be hired at the agency, lawmakers told his organization that wouldn't happen.

"We will be visiting with lawmakers who are concerned with state employees, and we will be expressing our concerns," he said.

Ryberg, an Aiken businessman, is chief operating officer of REI Inc., a real estate holding company he has worked at since 1999, according to his resume. He previously was founder and president of R&H Maxxon Inc., from 1977 to 1999, a gasoline convenience store operation with 50 stores he sold to the Pantry in 1999.

He currently serves on the Marquette University Board of Trustees Executive Committee and the Southern Bank & Trust Advisory Board.

He entered the Senate in 1993 and retired in 2012.

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