Exploris pension questioned

The state Attorney General’s Office says Anne Bryan, president of the nonprofit Exploris children’s museum in Raleigh, is not a state employee and the museum should reimburse the state for any contributions to the state retirement system it made for her during the past eight years, The News & Observer in Raleigh reported Aug. 29.

Concluding that Bryan should not have been allowed to become a member of the retirement system for state employees, Assistant Attorney General Robert Curran also says in an informal ruling Aug. 20 that her pension should be reduced to the level it was when she left her state job eight-and-a-half years ago.

Curran issued his opinion in response to a request by Michael Williamson, director of the state retirement system, N&O columnist Ruth Sheehan reported.

Williamson was responding to questions from reporters in the wake of a Philanthropy Journal report July 1 that the state has continued to pay Bryan during the more than eight years she has served as Exploris president – an unusual arrangement that has given her nearly enough years on the state payroll to qualify for full state retirement benefits.

Before contacting the Attorney General’s Office, Williamson contacted the state Department of Commerce, which had made the decision to hire Bryan – after she became Exploris president — during the administration of Gov. Jim Hunt.

Although Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, a member of Exploris’ board, told the Philanthropy Journal in June that he had no idea Bryan was on his payroll, the department later told Curran that Bryan’s employment was justified by a “synergy (between Commerce and Exploris) involving a number of education and economic development issues,” the N&O’s Sheehan reports.

Bryan told Sheehan she was surprised at Curran’s assessment, while Exploris founder Gordon Smith told Sheehan the opinion was preliminary and he hoped the Attorney General’s Office would reassess once it got additional information.

Bryan, a state employee since Sept. 1, 1972, will be eligible for full retirement benefits after 30 years, or this Sept. 1.

As the Philanthropy Journal reported in July, had Bryan left the state payroll Jan. 18, 1994, when she became Exploris’ president, the retirement benefits for which she 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, according to the Department of the State Treasurer, which oversees the state retirement system.

The Commerce Department says it pays Bryan an annual salary of $87,926, and Exploris reimburses the department for her full compensation package.

The monthly pension benefit 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, according to the Department of State Treasurer.  

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