By Todd Cohen
Since becoming president of the Exploris children’s museum in Raleigh more than eight years ago, Anne Bryan has continued to be paid as a state employee — an unusual arrangement that has given her nearly enough years on the state payroll to qualify for full state retirement benefits.
The N.C. Department of Commerce pays a salary and benefits to Bryan as president of the financially troubled private nonprofit museum, which reimburses the state for her compensation package.
The arrangement has existed since Jan. 18, 1994, when Bryan moved from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to the Commerce Department into a position entitled “President, Children’s Museum of the World.”
Because of the unusual deal, Bryan, a state employee since Sept. 1, 1972, will be eligible for full retirement benefits in two months.
Had she left the state payroll in 1994, the retirement benefits for which Bryan would have been eligible would have been reduced by 45 percent from the full amount for which she now will be eligible after 30 years as a state employee, says Joe Stewart, chief of staff for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, which oversees the state retirement system.
The full amount of a pension is reduced by 5 percent a year for each year a state employee works short of 30 years, he says.
Bryan says the arrangement with the Commerce Department was intended “as a way for the state to participate in the Exploris endeavor” and was not designed to help her secure full retirement benefits.
“We wanted a tie with the state and the state wanted a tie with us,” she says.
Exploris Chairman Gordon Smith, who was Bryan’s boss in the 1970s at the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, says Bryan’s pension was not a factor in the Commerce Department arrangement.
“It’s been a long-established plan to have Exploris be an educational institution to help North Carolinians understand the world and the challenge of the global economy,” he says. “And the best way to do that is through her participation through the Department of Commerce.”
State Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, who also serves on Exploris’ board of directors, says he did not even know Bryan was a department employee until the Philanthropy Journal asked him about the arrangement for this article.
The monthly pension benefit under the retirement system for teachers and state employees is based on the average salary an employee receives during the four consecutive years in which the employee received the highest salary, typically the last four years the employee worked, says Stewart of the Department of State Treasurer.
Participating in the state retirement system “is an incredibly lucrative benefit to the employee,” he says.
State lawmakers, he says, traditionally have approved cost-of-living adjustments to keep retirement benefits even with inflation.
“I’m not aware of any private-sector employee who’s been able to do that with their retirement system,” he says.
State retirees also receive the same level of health-care benefits as do active state employees, he says.
In her Commerce Department “flow-through” position that is reimbursed by Exploris, Bryan works 40 hours a week as president of Exploris and is paid an annual salary of $87,926, says Melinda Pierson, a public information officer for the department.
In April, Bryan moved to a full-time from a part-time job in which she had worked 32 hours a week for an annual salary of $70,342, Pierson says.