Iowa's main public pension system seeking new CEO (updated)

The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) posted a job listing for a new chief executive officer on December 9. Staff confirmed longtime CEO Donna Mueller will retire when her current term ends on April 30, 2020.

Mueller has led Iowa’s largest public pension fund since 2003 and is to my knowledge the only state government agency leader appointed by Governor Tom Vilsack who wasn’t replaced by Governors Chet Culver or Terry Branstad. The Iowa Senate most recently confirmed her for another four-year term in 2016.

IPERS has more than 340,000 members, including more than 110,000 retirees and their beneficiaries. The system has nearly $34 billion in assets and pays out some $1.7 billion annually, with about $1.5 billion going to Iowa residents.

Under Iowa law, the IPERS CEO should have “management-level pension fund administration experience” and “demonstrated knowledge of all aspects of pension fund administration.” The person “shall not be selected on the basis of political affiliation” and while holding the position cannot participate in political campaigns or committees, run for partisan elective office, or contribute to political campaigns.

IPERS will accept applications through January 13, 2020. Hopefuls should contact Melinda McElroy ( with a resume, three business references, and a cover letter “that summarizes how your experience is a good match for the position of IPERS’ CEO and that identifies what you see as several key issues facing IPERS.” Before coming to Iowa, Mueller had served as CEO of the Boston Retirement Board.

McElroy told Bleeding Heartland that the IPERS Investment Board and Benefits Advisory Committee will consider applicants for the CEO position and recommend an undetermined number of candidates to Governor Kim Reynolds. There is no statutory requirement for IPERS representatives to recommend finalists for the job, nor is the governor required to select anyone suggested by the search committee.

UPDATE: Many readers have expressed concern that Reynolds will appoint a CEO with the goal of privatizing IPERS or restructuring it so that future retirees do not have defined benefits. For what it’s worth, the governor repeatedly promised during the 2018 campaign not to make major changes to IPERS. An opinion column she wrote in October 2018 assured state and local government employees, “Under my watch, your IPERS is safe. It will not change; it will be protected; and you will have the retirement you were promised. Period.” Reynolds did not explicitly rule out restructuring the pension system for future hires, however.

Full text of IPERS CEO job listing, posted on the Iowa government jobs website on December 9:

Job Description
This is a non-merit position with the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS). Candidates must follow the instructions in the “To Apply” section.

Positions in this class are exempt from the screening and referral requirements of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services – Human Resources Enterprise.

The State of Iowa seeks a Chief Executive Officer of the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) to lead IPERS in its mission of administering a cost-efficient retirement plan that provides lifetime pension payments to public employees and serves to attract and retain a quality workforce.

IPERS administers a defined benefit retirement system for public employees of the State of Iowa and all political subdivisions. IPERS is a cost sharing, multiple employer, public employee retirement system providing retirement, disability, and survivor benefits for over 360,000 members and $34 billion in trust fund assets.

IPERS is an independent agency within the executive branch of state government. The CEO is appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate, and serves a four-year term. The CEO performs under the general direction of the Governor and with accountability to the Legislature, the IPERS Investment Board which is statutorily designated as the trustee of the system and trust fund, and the Benefits Advisory Committee which is charged with advice to the legislature as to the administration of benefits and the adequacy of the benefit plan. The CEO’s salary is set by the IPERS Investment Board.

The CEO is responsible for the strategic direction, planning and leadership of IPERS. The ideal candidate will have excellent communications skills with a positive track record of aligning others around a common mission of providing excellent customer service to members in a cost-effective manner. This individual will have the ability to make high level decisions and implement operational policy and strategic plans. The individual will be adept at leading, motivating and supporting employees, and implementing well-thought-out organizational change to drive continuous improvement. The position manages a current administrative budget of $18.2 million and oversees a staff of 90 employees.

While serving in office, the CEO is prohibited from holding any other public office, being a member of a political committee, participating in a political campaign, being a candidate for a partisan elective office, or contributing to a political campaign fund, except that the CEO may designate on the checkoff portion of the federal income tax return a party or parties to which a contribution is made pursuant to the checkoff.

Salary and Benefits:

Annual salary of $144,144 to $205,150, depending on experience. As an employee of IPERS, you are eligible for the State of Iowa comprehensive benefits package that includes the following and more:

Insurance – Health, Dental, Life and Long-Term Disability

Paid time off – Nine paid holidays, plus vacation and sick leave which accrue on your first day of employment

IPERS – A lifetime monthly benefit for vested employees. The State contributes a percentage on your behalf

Retirement Investors’ Club (RIC) – A voluntary retirement savings program including a State match of up to $75/month

To find out more:

Expected start date is May 1, 2020

Minimum Qualification Requirements
Graduation from an accredited four-year college or university with an emphasis in business or public administration is required; a J.D., M.B.A., M.P.A. or other post-graduate degree related to pension plan administration is preferred. Five years of full-time progressively more responsible management work with a pension system, which includes demonstrated knowledge of all aspects of pension fund administration, including financial management, investment asset management, benefit design and delivery, legal administration, and operations administration.

LATE UPDATE: Reynolds appointed Greg Samorajski on March 31. From the governor’s news release:

DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed Gregory Samorajski, former Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, as the next CEO of the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS). Samorajski replaces retiring CEO Donna Mueller, who has served in that role since 2003. The appointment is effective May 1, 2020, and is subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate.

“Protecting the retirement security of Iowa’s public employees, past and present, is a vitally important function of state government. I believe Greg Samorajski has exactly the kind of experience and temperament to do the job well,” said Gov. Reynolds. “Greg’s experience in institutional wealth management and in critical public sector pension roles will be so valuable to IPERS in the years ahead. I’m so grateful to Donna Mueller, who has ably led IPERS for 17 years and worked tirelessly on behalf of Iowa’s outstanding public employees.”

“Iowa has a strong legacy of effectively and responsibly managing its public pension system,” said Samorajski. “That is a public trust that cannot be taken lightly. It’s an honor for me to take the reins at IPERS, and I appreciate this opportunity to serve the people of Iowa in this way.”

Samorajski served as the Deputy Commissioner of the State of Alaska Department of Revenue from December 2018 through early March 2020 and is currently on assignment to the Department of Commerce to work on mitigating the economic impact of the Covid 19 virus. In his tenure as Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Samorajski managed the staff of the Alaska Retirement Management Board. He has lived in Alaska since 1997 where he worked first as a portfolio manager and Director of Investments for McKinley Capital. At McKinley he managed money for and provided service to large public pension plans and other institutional investors. Mr. Samorajski also served as Chief Financial Officer for the True North Federal Credit Union in Juneau, Alaska. Prior to transferring to Alaska, Samorajski served as Senior Economist and Manager of Financial Instruments at the Chicago Board of Trade, as an Investment Officer at the First National Bank of Chicago and on staff of the accounting firm of Deloitte Haskins & Sells. He has served on the faculties of the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Alaska Pacific University.

The IPERS trust fund is valued at $34 billion and serves more than 368,000 members. It pays out about $2.2 billion annually, $1.9 billion of which is paid in Iowa.

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