COLUMBIA - For the second time in three months, the agency investing South Carolina's pension portfolio has named an executive director.
The Retirement Systems Investment Commission voted 4-2 on Tuesday to hire Michael Hitchcock, who takes the job Sept. 8. Hitchcock has been the chief attorney and assistant clerk of the South Carolina Senate since 2001. His salary will be $230,000.
Hitchcock takes over from Sarah Corbett, a 15-year agency employee who was promoted to the new position June 3. She resigned Aug. 13.
Creating the post was among the recommendations Funston Advisory Services made last spring. The job overseeing the entire agency eliminated the role of chief operating officer. Former Sen. Greg Ryberg had held that job since last October, when Darry Oliver resigned after seven months.
The agency's last few years have been marked by public feuding between Treasurer Curtis Loftis and his fellow commissioners. When Oliver quit, he said it was because of Loftis. Funston's report, issued in April, said the dysfunctional relationship between the commission and Loftis is one of the most significant risks to the $29 billion portfolio that benefits more than 550,000 public workers, retirees and their beneficiaries.
Those voting against Hitchcock's hiring were Loftis and Commissioner Allen Gillespie.
Loftis said the process should have involved a public search and "legitimate" interview process.
"Our state employees and retirees deserve to have this important, highly paid position filled by a public process rather than a secret one," he said.
Commission Chairman Ed Giobbe initially planned for a national search for Corbett's replacement but decided there was no time.
The agency "needs a very qualified individual right now," he said. "We simply don't have six months or more to find new leadership, but even if we did, then I don't think that we would find someone better qualified and suited to this task."
Hitchcock, a 1996 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law and major in the National Guard, said his experience in balancing the Senate's 46 "strong personalities" will serve him well in his new job. He said he was approached about the job earlier this month.
"I've built a reputation as a person who can work between sides and help the Senate move past impasses," he said. "To the extent I can help arbitrate some kind of compromise, I want to do that."
Hitchcock currently earns about $145,000 with the Senate.
Wayne Bell, former president of the State Retirees Association, said he thinks Hitchcock was a great choice.
"Bringing someone from the outside who was perfectly capable didn't work," he said, referring to Oliver. "South Carolina politics just eats them alive."