SDRS trustees interview two finalists for executive director

Capitol News Bureau
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FORT PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Trustees for the South Dakota Retirement System spent Wednesday afternoon meeting privately with the two finalists for executive director of a public pension plan worth more than $12 billion.

Each finalist came prepared to make a one-hour presentation to the full board’s members. The candidates’ names weren’t disclosed, and chairman James Johns of Rapid City didn’t say whether the successful applicant would be publicly announced Thursday.

Earlier this year, Rob Wylie announced that he planned to retire in December. He’s been executive director since 2003 and spent the better part of four decades working at the SDRS offices near the Capitol in Pierre. Trustees scheduled a dinner for Wednesday night to honor him.

Al Asher previously was the top administrator. Wylie replaced Asher.

Paul Schrader, the system’s long-time consultant from Denver, remarked Wednesday upon the significance of the board’s choice. “There have been two of these guys in 50 years who have been executive director,” Schrader told the trustees.

SDRS is one of the few public systems in the nation that is considered fully funded. The Legislature sets state laws governing its operation. SDRS now operates two plans: One called Foundational for members who joined prior to July 1, 2017, and a second called Generational for those who joined after June 30, 2017.

The system’s more than 88,000 members include current and past employees and elected officials from state government, public universities, counties, municipalities, school districts and other non-federal government units in South Dakota. Each group, including retirees, has at least one elected seat.

Schrader and state Senator Jim White, R-Huron, served with several of the trustees on a special panel that went through eight months of preliminary work. White, chairman of the Legislature’s Retirement Laws Committee, participated in the final pair of interviews Wednesday.

Schrader briefed the full board Wednesday afternoon, before leaving the trustees and White to their meetings with the final two candidates. Schrader said the screening panel had met three times by telephone and once in person.

Of the 12 who applied, five were from outside South Dakota. “We had some excellent candidates,” Schrader said.

The committee reviewed the applications and reduced them by half. “The rankings were amazingly uniform,” he said. One of the six later dropped out. The panel interviewed the remaining five August 6. “They were fairly tough questions, in a lot of cases,” Schrader said

That round narrowed the field to the two who were invited to sit behind closed doors with the full board Wednesday.

“I think there was great uniformity in how the committee saw the those,” Schrader said. He noted the committee was “engaged” and all of the members participated in the interviews.

Eric Stroeder, a trustee from Mobridge who works for the state Department of Transportation, was among the group. He agreed with Schrader’s description.

“They don’t always go that smooth,” Stroeder said.

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