Under the Dome

Now hiring: State government’s highest-paid job is open

Kevin SigRist
Kevin SigRist

North Carolina has billions of dollars invested in stocks, bonds and more – but it needs someone to decide what to do with all that money.

The state’s $94 billion pension plan is responsible for making sure retired teachers, cops and other government workers are taken care of. It has been without a permanent leader since July, when the chief investment officer at the state treasurer’s office unexpectedly quit.

But now, State Treasurer Dale Folwell plans to hire a new chief investment officer. The job has been open for the last six months, and Folwell didn’t announce if he has a deadline to fill it. But whenever a new person is hired, he or she will likely be one of the highest-paid employees in all of state government.

Kevin SigRist was making a $387,081 annual salary at the time he quit, making him the highest-paid person in state government – that is, the highest paid outside the UNC System and all of its highly paid football and basketball coaches.

SigRist’s departure meant that for a while, the title of highest-paid state government worker went to Larry Wheeler, the longtime director of the NC Museum of Art who made just shy of $300,000 a year. But Wheeler announced in late 2017 that he plans to retire in November 2018, after nearly 45 years working for the state.

At the treasurer’s office, decisions about the pension plan have been handled in the last six months by a duo of investment managers, Jeff Smith and Christopher Morris. While neither have had their pay elevated quite to the level of what SigRist had been making, they’re among the 10 treasurer’s office employees who make more than $200,000 a year. About 50 other people in the office make between $100,000 and $200,000 a year.

The office handles plenty of money, and it manages one of the most stable state pension plans in the country. It also handles sensitive information; last week an employee there was charged with stealing documents related to financial transactions.

Tanika Nichole Lucas, 40, was charged Jan. 6 with two counts of embezzling state property, a felony. Officials from the treasurer’s office have not yet said what exactly it is she’s accused of taking, or why, and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said investigators still haven’t found the files in question.

“As we search for a new Chief Investment Officer, we remain committed to protecting and sustaining the pension plan for the public workers who rely on it for their retirement,” Folwell said. “Under the leadership of a new CIO and the outstanding investment team we have in place, North Carolina’s retirement systems will remain among the best-funded and most reliable in the U.S.”

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran