In 2004 and 2005 AARP, along with its “Save GERS” coalition organizations worked tirelessly to ensure that measures be instituted by the VI Legislature to help the Virgin Islands Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) remain solvent for years to come. As the only government pensions system, the VI risked severe financial crisis if the system that supported the bulk of the territory’s seniors was to collapse. At the time, early retirements created a massive unfunded liability that placed the system in serious jeopardy. Even though VI government retirees were the ones who would have been directly impacted by the system’s demise, they had no input into what steps were being taken to avert disaster.
As part of the campaign, AARP and its fellow community organizations urged the legislature to include specific language that would provide retirees with a seat on the Board based on an election by their peers. Even though the final legislation included the election of two retirees, retirees had not yet been given their opportunity to serve. Now, after five years, this portion of the 2005 GERS Reform Act will be implemented allowing annuitants to finally have a voice on the Board.
In early June, retirees received word from the GERS administrator that elections for the new Board positions will be held in October and positions being assumed in January 2011. Individuals elected to these positions will have the same opportunity to serve two, five-year terms just as all other appointed Board members.
Prior to the implementation of this new provision the board was composed of seven members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Legislature. The original legislation, signed into effect on October 1, 1959, stipulated that two members must come from the labor union sector, and two each should come from St. Thomas and St. Croix and one from the island of St. John. At that time, the Board members were to serve a term of three years with no member serving more than two complete terms. The recent implementation of the retiree election process will not change the total number of Board members but will reduce the number of Governor appointments to one per island district.
While the new provision allows retirees to actively participate in the management of the territory’s sole public pension system, the new qualification criteria contains stringent educational requirements for those considering running for the elected positions.
Over the 50 years that the system has been in operation many changes have occurred within the United States and global financial and investment sectors. In order to ensure that the GERS Board benefit from the expertise and experience of potential Board members, the 2005 Reform Act requires all appointed and elected candidates to now possess a bachelor’s degree in either investment, banking, economics, finance, insurance, law, medicine, accounting, actuarial science, taxation, real estate appraisal, brokerage or securities trading. Additionally, candidates must also have at least five years of experience in one of these areas. The only exceptions to this requirement are the two representatives from the labor unions. These two appointed positions are exempt from having to possess any financial expertise to serve on the Board.
Persons interested in seeking election to the GERS Board can obtain information packets from either GERS Office on the island of St. Thomas or St. Croix.