St. Croix retirees are actively refusing the opportunity to serve on the V.I. Government Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees.
So says GERS Administrator Austin Nibbs, who during a recent board meeting voiced his concern that St. Croix retirees may be avoiding a place on the board because they don’t want to take any blame for the system’s woes.
“I feel they’re competent and qualified people on St. Croix, however I don’t think they want the headache and I don’t think they want the personal liability — they’re running from that type of thing,” Nibbs said.
Mary Moorhead, a member of the St. Croix Government Retirees, disagreed, telling The Daily News that retirees are willing to serve on the board but just don’t meet the board’s hefty eligibility requirements, which include an educational background in certain fields like investment banking or actuarial science.
In either case, the board is running out of time, poised to be without a required St. Croix retiree in a matter of months, as Trustee Stephen Cohen — the current St. Croix retiree on the board — chose not to seek reelection and will end his term in March.
“I feel uncomfortable about the absence of St. Croix representation on the board,” said Trustee Nellon Bowry. “I think we need to be bending over backwards to get this done.”
According to Act 6794, known as the Reform Act of 2005, the GERS Board is required to have a retiree in its ranks from both the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts. Elections are held every five years.
Eligible candidates must be a GERS retiree, have at least five years of work experience and carry at least a bachelor’s degree in any of the following: investment banking, economics, finance, insurance, law, medicine, accounting, actuarial science, taxation, real estate appraisal or brokerage and securities trading.
While nominations have regularly come from the St. Thomas-St. John district, the same cannot be said about St. Croix.
In 2016, St. Croix retiree Edgar Ross had to retain his seat on the board beyond the election because no new nominations came forward. He resigned a year later and Cohen took over in a special election.
During this year’s nomination process, which stretched from Sept. 8 to Oct. 23, nominations again were lacking from St. Croix.
“I think the problem is they don’t want to be coming in at this time, when we’re going into insolvency and being blamed and having any liability — this was what was expressed to me,” Nibbs said.
Pushing back, Moorhead said retirees like former Sen. Adelbert Bryan have shown interest in serving on the board but are simply not qualified despite having served in the Legislature.
If you’re a senator, shouldn’t you qualify to sit on the GERS Board?” Moorhead asked.
Moorhead said she pushed the Legislature for years to bring an amendment to modify the eligibility requirements so that a former senator who’s served four consecutive terms and was a member of the Senate Finance Committee can be eligible for the board.
‘Nobody has addressed it,” Moorhead said.
Nibbs, during the recent board meeting, did acknowledge the strict eligibility requirements for board retirees and how he warned lawmakers that they were “setting the bar too high.”
“A board is supposed to be made up of the complement of the membership. That’s what I see in the states. They’re teachers, firemen — it’s made up of the membership,” he said. “But you’re setting the bar too high because some of them don’t have those backgrounds.”
To ensure a St. Croix candidate is brought on board, the GERS Board unanimously voted to have Nibbs submit a proposal to extend the length of the election until a candidate is found.
This will now be the standard practice in the event no candidates are nominated in the future.
In the St. Thomas-St. John district, Dwane Callwood was the only applicant. In accordance with GERS procedures, since Callwood was the only qualified candidate, there will be no election in the St. Thomas-St. John district.
Callwood, a retired chief marshal of the V.I. Superior Court, will replace current St. Thomas-St. John retiree Wilbur Callender.
Board members present included Callender, Bowry, Cohen and Vincent Liger.