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GERS Building Plans and Actions Draw Critics

Dec 27, 2004 – The Government Employees Retirement System Board has plans to move in new directions. On Dec. 20 it broke ground for a two-story building behind its present offices in Orange Grove on St. Croix. The new building, which will cost over $4 million dollars, is expected to be completed in 16 months.
GERS offices and a state-of-the-art teleconferencing center will be on the second floor. The ground floor and the old office building will be available for leasing.
On Dec. 24 the board ran an advertisement in The Avis saying its future plans included looking at a two-tier system for retirees. The plan would probably result in a less lucrative retirement package for new hires. The advertisement also said the board planned to hire a communications specialist and improve customer services with a Web Site.
The board originally announced its intention to go in a new direction with the firing of executive director Laurence Bryan on Nov. 6. The board has begun the process of hiring a new executive director with the deadline at the end of January for receiving applications.
All this activity has not gone without attracting criticism.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, with a number of unflattering statements about the board, launched into an investigation of the sacking of Bryan.(See "Senator Calls For Documents Concerning GERS Firing").
The V.I. Daily News published an editorial on Monday that called the new building "a $6 million dollar monument to mismanagement." It asks the question, "Why does a retirement system that is $1 billion dollars in debt need to waste another $6 million on another lavish office?"
Raymond James, board chairman, responded to some of that criticism Monday night. He said the board is looking at ways to resolve its financial problems and part of the answer could be through investment. He said through leasing office space the new building would "pay for itself." According to James, all the office space in the building the GERS owns on St. Thomas is rented.
He also said the present building on St. Croix was meant to handle GERS services to 2,500 retirees. The GERS now handles more than 6,000 retirees' accounts.
The Daily News also made the point that the new office would remain in Christiansted and proposed that GERS would have served the retirees better by locating in the island center.
James said, "We own the land where we are building. Why should we go out and buy other land. It would not make sense."
James still did not elaborate with details on the firing of Bryan. Monday night his words were not much different from his on Nov. 6. He said, "We needed a better fit."
Other items that the board listed in its printed plan included:
– Restructuring the loan application process to avoid long lines and extended waiting periods.
– Comprehensive staff training and assessment of resources.
– Considerably shorten the time it takes retirees to receive their initial annuity check upon retirement.
– Creation of a qualified, external medical review committee for disability review.
– Creation of a member services department.
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