State pension chief set to get raise

By Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Ash Williams, who oversees Florida's $144 billion state pension fund, is in line for a 5.5 percent raise in a proposal that will go before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet next week.

Williams, the chief investment officer for the State Board of Administration, would see his pay rise from $389,500 to $411,000. He would also be eligible for a performance bonus of up to $30,673, which would be paid over two years, once financial audits are finished for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The pay proposal, which will be reviewed by Scott and Cabinet members on Tuesday, is part of Williams' annual job evaluation. It comes after the State Board of Administration's Investment Advisory Council reviewed Williams' job performance in the fall "and rated his overall performance at the highest level," according to a letter from Michael Price, chairman of the advisory council.

Despite a volatile year in the financial markets, the state pension fund finished slightly in the black, plus 0.54 percent, in the 2015-16 state budget year. It marked the seventh straight year of a positive return for the fund, which Williams took over in November 2008.

In the seven full years that Williams has guided the investments, the pension fund recorded double-digit positive returns in four of those years, with a high of more than 22 percent in 2010-11. Its lowest return was 0.29 percent in 2011-12.

During Williams' tenure, the fund has had a 9.28 percent average annual return, exceeding an 8.46 percent benchmark used to track the fund's performance, according to a report that is part of Williams' job evaluation.

In a Nov. 16 report to Scott and the Cabinet, Williams said the pension fund continues to perform well, recording a 3.81 percent rise through Sept. 30, the first quarter of the new state fiscal year.

This is the first year that Williams and other SBA employees will be eligible for bonus payments based on the investment-fund performance in the prior year.

When he took over the fund in 2008, Williams suspended the bonus plan, said Dennis MacKee, an agency spokesman. MacKee said the program has been reinitiated and will eventually link the bonuses to a rolling three-year average of the investment-fund performance.

Williams has not had a pay raise since December 2014, when Scott and the Cabinet increased his pay from $367,500 to $389,500.

Mercer, a consulting firm, conducted a review of pay plans for managers of the largest public pension funds in the country, showing Williams is paid below the average.

The median base pay was $455,000 for the managers, with a total average, including bonus payments, of $620,000, according to the review that was conducted for the Investment Advisory Council.

News Service of Florida