Nov. 8, 2004 Government Employees Retirement System employees were back to work Monday, after staging an impromptu protest Friday over the unceremonious firing of Laurence E. Bryan, GERS executive director.
The employees were incensed at the board's action. Board members offered no explanation for their action, except to say they wanted to "move in a different direction," according to Avon Crossley, GERS loan service manager.
A lame-duck board fired Bryan. "It was their final act," said Mary Davis Monday. Davis is vice-president of Advocates for the Preservation of the Retirement System. The terms of three of the four board members who fired Bryan Chairman Raymond James, Yvonne Bowsky and Marvin Pickering expired Friday. The term of the fourth member, Carver Farrow, expires next spring. The terms of Leona E. Smith and Vincent Liger, who were not present at the meeting, also expired Friday. The members are now serving under a 60-day grace period.
Davis said Advocates for Preservation has not taken a position on the firing. "We want to get some answers before we take a position. There was no logic to what they did, and no explanation. Our main purpose is to protect the system."
Crossley said Friday and reiterated Monday that Bryan was leading the system in a "forward" direction. She said, "We are moving forward in a growth process." Crossley said in the three years she has worked for GERS she has seen changes made that "move GERS upward and onward." She asked, "Why would you want to change that direction?"
Though there had been some talk of further protests, Crossley said Monday, "We are working through other channels," she said. "We are all back at work today. We will work within the confines of the Legislature and Government House. We have written a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and we will wait to see the response to that." Crossley did not want to divulge the letter's contents until the governor has had a chance to respond.
Crossley said there are considerations before considering a protest, including a number of union contracts, "which we want to make sure we don't jeopardize."
Sen. Lorraine Berry expressed shock over the board's action. "Regardless of their reasons You can't just terminate somebody like that. This is a $1.2 billion pension fund we're talking about."
She said she would talk to Jones Tuesday to call a Committee of the Whole meeting. Jones has been off-island, but returned Monday, she said.
She said it might be necessary to subpoena the board members, if they don't want to come voluntarily. She said the meeting would probably be scheduled for next week.
She said, "We need to know what the urgency was."
According to remarks made by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. Monday afternoon on Radio WVWI news, a Nov. 16 date has been requested for the committee meeting. White said he visited the GERS offices Monday. White said he has been very vocal about certain private sector employers' such as the Grand Beach Palace Resort treatment of their employees, "and here's a situation where we have a government agency behaving similarly. It doesn't sound good at all."
White also said he encountered some government retirees in the GERS building lobby where they were waiting to find out if they would receive their checks Nov. 15. Berry had expressed concern on her radio show about the checks, since they bear Bryan's signature and may not be legal.
Willis Todman, acting GERS director, said Monday afternoon the appropriate actions had been taken to ensure the checks would be out on time and valid.
Asked about assuming the GERS director position on a permanent basis, Todman said, "I'm not too sure. If it's advertised, I would make an announcement at the appropriate time."
Sen. Louis Hill is especially incensed at the board's action. Hill has drafted GERS legislation, which he has been working on since last year, and hopes to have before committee soon. The bill is in the legal counsel's office now.
Hill said Monday, "The board's action was an administrative function. I clearly object to it, but I don't know that the Senate can force the issue." Hill said at a meeting of the Advocates for Preservation last October that while the GERS should oversee the GERS board. "Some entity," he said at the time, "should have oversight over the board's actions, expenses and methods of operating. In essence, they can do what they want."
And that is just what they did Friday. Hill mentioned Monday that his legislation addresses this specific issue. "They could not have fired Bryan the way they did if that legislation was law," he said. "The board would have to show cause to fire the executive director or anyone else. The board would have to demonstrate their reasons."
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