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GERS Board Fires Bryan; Employees Protest

Nov. 6, 2004 – Saying only that they wanted a change in direction for the government's pension system, directors of the Government Employees Retirement System fired their administrator Friday. A short time later most of the staff at the St. Thomas office walked off the job in protest of the way the board dismissed their boss.
Members of the GERS Governing Board were not available for comment after emerging from an emergency meeting and announcing to the GERS staff and assembled reporters that Laurence E. Bryan, GERS administrator, had been fired.
Bryan said he was confronted at the meeting and given an ultimatum — resign or face termination.
Bryan said the board treated him "like a criminal."
"I have done nothing to deserve that," he said.
Word of the board's Friday afternoon action spread quickly, prompting one lawmaker to demand the GERS board "produce a paper trail to justify its hasty action."
"Mr. Bryan deserves better and I demand better from the GERS board members," Sen. Louis P. Hill said Friday.
Hill was not alone in his search for an explanation. GERS staff member Avon Crossley said pension fund workers would return to duty Monday, but plan to ask for a meeting with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to express their concerns.
She also said the staff will ask the board to reconsider its decision, and may consider further protests.
"First thing they need to do is sit down with us as employees who are presently taking this action and tell us what is going on. How does it come to a place where Mr. Bryan gets fired and we are left without an administrator simply because of a directional change?" Crossley said.
Bryan said Friday he could only guess why four members of the board — Chairman Raymond James, Yvonne Bowsky, Marvin Pickering and Carver Farrow — called the administrator into an emergency meeting and ordered him to tender his resignation or be fired. He didn't say what he guessed, however.
He did say he spurned the board's request because of the terms that went with it.
"It was a gag order and a small severance pay that I didn't feel was reflective of the manner in which I was terminated nor the service I have brought to the system. So I chose not to accept it," he said.
Two other board members, Leona E. Smith and Vincent Liger, were not present at Friday's meeting.
One board member who spoke on condition of anonymity called the board's action troubling but not entirely unexpected. GERS board members held a meeting Thursday night where Bryan was the subject.
"We had a meeting last night and they wanted to terminate Mr. Bryan because they wanted to change direction," the board member said.
The anonymous board member also raised concerns for how the situation was handled and questioned the timing, in light of a complaint against the GERS by Claude "Tappy" Molloy, who said he, too, was wrongfully terminated from the retirement system from a previous situation.
Willis Todman was appointed as the acting executive director and is expected to assume Bryan's duties for now.
In expressing his disappointment, Hill praised Bryan for his "integrity and professionalism" in managing the retirement system. "I am very disturbed and I am concerned that the board has terminated Mr. Bryan for personal reasons that have nothing to do with his competence, his performance or his willingness to implement policies that protect and enhance the integrity and viability of the system," Hill said in a statement released from his office late Friday afternoon.
The board's action comes seven months after James said GERS earnings had never been higher.
GERS earned 22.19 percent on its investment for calendar year 2003, which translates to earnings of nearly $2.2 million.
"Over the last 10 years we have never had that high of a return," James said. (See "Returns High While GERS Unfunded Liability Rises").

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