Message from the Executive Director: An unconventional year

June 07, 2021

Porter WilsonThe past year has been like no other, with COVID-19 upending the way we work, learn and live.

I certainly never imagined a year ago that the virus-related adjustments we were making would continue into a second year.

Throughout the pandemic, some things carried on as if nothing has changed—a testament to the resiliency of our staff and members. While our Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) building was closed to visitors and many employees for more than a year, our services continued; annuity checks were processed on time and our benefits counselors helped members by phone and email.

Our members also adapted to the new COVID-19 world when it came to their health care. Virtual and telemedicine visits to providers increased more than 500% from February 2020 to February 2021. (As a reminder, in-network medical virtual visits are covered at no cost to participants in HealthSelect of Texas® and HealthSelectSM Medicare Advantage Plans. See ERS COVID-19 Updates.

Other important work proceeded largely unaffected by the pandemic. As in every odd-numbered year, we’ve spent a lot of time at the Capitol, providing information to lawmakers about how proposed legislation might affect ERS-administered benefits and our members. It’s always hard to predict what bills will make it into law. I’ve been encouraged by proposed legislation to address the unfunded liability in the ERS Retirement Trust Fund. A stronger fund benefits retirees receiving benefits as well as employees contributing to the plan. Of course, we’ll provide information on any final legislation that would impact your benefits. View Legislative Activity Related to ERS to stay up-to-date on the latest developments.

Our search is ongoing for a successor for Chief Investment Officer Tom Tull, who is retiring this year. The strong field of candidates was an indication of ERS’ reputation in the investments world as a sophisticated institutional investor and a good place to work. Tom has shepherded the Fund through many ups and downs during his 9 years as CIO, including a market drop last year when the pandemic took hold globally. I’m pleased to report that our steady investment approach has helped us recover those losses and earn excess returns. We hope to introduce you to the new CIO later this year.

We also completed construction of the new 1836 San Jacinto building on ERS’ existing property. The building is primarily for lease tenants and will generate revenue for the ERS Retirement Trust Fund, while also providing needed office space for some of ERS’ growing staff.

A different kind of trustee election

We’re moving forward, albeit differently, to fill the Board of Trustees seat held by Ilesa Daniels, whose term expires August 31. Only one prospective candidate submitted the necessary 300 signatures to participate in the trustee election—a first to our knowledge. Holding an election in which the result is pre-determined is inefficient and costly, and this month ERS will certify Neika Clark as the trustee-elect (see "ERS certifies board candidate"). We’ll share more information about Clark on our website and in your next Your ERS Connection.

It has been an unusual year, and one that I hope we don’t have to repeat. Many Americans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, with more getting the shot every day. Vaccines are covered at no cost to all plan participants age 12 and above. With more people fully vaccinated, we can begin to resume more in-person activities and events soon. As always you can stay connected with ERS through our website, this newsletter, our Facebook page and the many webinars on benefits and wellness topics we offer each month. You can sign up for them on the ERS Events calendar.

Porter Wilson