Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has asked the Government Employees Retirement System board to rescind the "excessive" pay increases it gave certain administrative employees of the system.
In a letter to the GERS board Tuesday the governor said, "I find the magnitude of these increases excessive, and the timing inappropriate in these trying financial times."
The raises of more than 50 percent for top GERS administrators came to light Tuesday in a story in the V.I. Independent. They were granted Dec. 16, 1999, retroactive to October 1998, and put the top GERS officials above the $100,000 salary mark.
Smaller retroactive raises — about 5 percent — were granted to GERS rank-and-file employees, a disparity that provoked strong union criticism.
The governor's letter continued, "In particular I consider retroactive increases in salaries of 50 percent or more amounting to tens of thousands of dollars to be an abuse of the board's discretion and an insult to the hardworking men and women of this territory who entrust their retirement funds to the system."
Last October the governor had refused to execute these increases when they came before him, and he said that the suspicious manner in which they were subsequently done is an affront to his office.
The GERS became a semi-autonomous agency in December, and the board's first action was to reinstate the 1998 pay hikes that the governor had halted.
As a semi-autonomous agency, the GERS board can set its own policy.
The governor isn't the only one who was incensed by the untimely increases.
Sen. Violet Anne Golden on Tuesday demanded answers on the increases.
"I want to know what these officials, who were basically given a failing grade for their work by a recent inspector general's audit report, did to earn such large pay increases," she said.
Golden asked how an increase of more than a quarter of a million dollars could come out of a system that is already underfunded.
She said that even if the auditors had found that the GERS had been doing a commendable job, it would still be "unconscionable to give these increases at this time." She pointed out that the administrators aren't professional money managers.
"They are only administrators of a system with serious fiduciary responsibilities," she said, adding that "union officials and members have every right to be concerned about this sudden and unexplained move by the GERS board."
Luis "Tito" Morales, president of the Central Labor Council of the Virgin Islands, expressed his displeasure Tuesday with the board's action, calling it "an injustice to the system." He also questioned why four assistant administrators were required to manage 40 to 45 employees.
Golden said it appeared to her that two assistants would be adequate for the task. She noted that so far "GERS has been unable to maintain loan records. . . .or to know who owes what, or when a loan has been paid." She suggested that with fewer employees, perhaps there could be better focus on the work at hand.
Golden concluded, "We have a problem in our retirement system management. . . . this misjudgment travesty did nothing to rectify the situation."
Members of the GERS board are:
George A. Farrelly
Corine D. King
Leona E. Smith
Francisco Frank Stapleton
John P. deJongh Jr.
Eleanor D. Josiah
Vincent G. Liger
Editor's note: For details of the pay increases, see earlier story "GERS Officials Given Giant Pay Increases."