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Gail Stone, executive director of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System since July 2001, announced after the system's board of trustees held a closed meeting Wednesday that she is retiring effective Dec. 31.

The Public Employees Retirement System is state government's second-largest, behind the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. The Teacher Retirement System's director also retired this year.

Stone made the announcement in a terse statement to the trustees, who had just met for nearly 40 minutes in an executive session on personnel matters.

After that meeting, board Chairman David Morris said, "There appears to be no action to be taken at this time."

Then Stone told the trustees: "I would like to take this time to announce that I will be leaving this agency at the end of the month. I will be taking retirement."

The trustees then voted to put Deputy Director Jay Wills in charge of day-to-day operations until a new executive director is hired.

"Of course, I will try to discharge it to the best of my ability as I have done so far here, and it's out of my place to say it. I'm very disappointed," Wills said, referring to Stone's retirement.

Wills is paid $116,309 a year as deputy director, according to state government's transparency website. Stone is paid $181,499 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.

Afterward, Morris said, "The board asked the vice chair [Larry Walther] and myself to go in and visit with her about her retirement plans and that was the option she chose. We did not give her any other alternatives or options presented orally at all."

Asked if her other option was termination, Morris said, "No other option was voiced to her."

Walther, who is director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, declined to comment on what he said he considers to be a personnel matter, finance department spokesman Scott Hardin said. Hardin was asked to confirm what Morris said about Walther's role in this matter and why Stone was given the option to retire.

"I was given an opportunity to retire," Stone said in an interview.

Asked what would have happened if she didn't retire, Stone said, "I don't know." But she said she wasn't threatened with termination.

Asked why she decided to retire, Stone replied, "Because it appeared to be the only avenue of possibility for myself."

"I have valued my time at APERS more than anybody can know. I wish my successor,whoever that might be, good luck because this system is very important to Arkansas and to the nearly 100,000 members it supports," she said.

Stone said she has worked for the retirement system since 1990 and can retire with full benefits.

Walther said in a written statement, "The board, along with our members and APERS staff, appreciates her 28 years of dedicated service.

"We thank Gail for her leadership and wish her all the best in the future. APERS will begin seeking applications for the executive director position over the next several days, with interviews expected to take place at the January 8 meeting of the board," Walther said.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said in an interview that Stone served as the system's executive director for a long time and did a good job in that post. Hester is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.

Hester said he thought state Budget Administrator "Duncan Baird would be considered the front-runner" for the executive director job.

Baird applied for the Teacher Retirement System's executive director post before that system's trustees voted Oct. 31 to promote the associate director of operations, Clint Rhoden. Rhoden's predecessor, George Hopkins, announced in October his intention to retire by the end of this year after serving in the job since December 2008. Hopkins retired Nov. 16.

Baird is a former Republican state representative from Lowell who has worked for Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration since January 2015. He said he doesn't know whether he will apply for the job.

"I really think it is something I'll have to take a look at," Baird said.

Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, said Stone's retirement "is a surprise to me.

"I knew that she was getting close to being eligible for retirement, but I didn't have any personal knowledge about her situation. I guess it's a good time. I think she is eligible [for retirement]," said House, who is a co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.

He said he doesn't have any suggestions for who should be the next executive director.

"I'm very pleased with Mr. Rhoden," House said. "He's a peach, very easy to talk to, very easy to work with, very cooperative. We got a job to do over here and he's helped us do our job and you can't ask for anything better than that, and Miss Stone was, too. She was really great to help us understanding things."

The Public Employees Retirement System has more than $8 billion in investments and more than 75,000 working and retired members. The Teacher Retirement System has about $17 billion in investments and more than 100,000 working and retired members.

Metro on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Chief leaving Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System

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