Mark White, chief of staff at the state Department of Human Services, will become the next executive director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, the system's board of trustees decided on Thursday.
After about an 12-minute closed-door executive session to discuss the selection of an executive director, 12 trustees voted to hire White for the post with the other three trustees absent.
Afterward, Board Chairman Danny Knight said the board thoroughly studied the applicants for the system's executive director and several of the candidates were highly qualified for the post.
The trustees "felt like Mark stood out" based on his experience in state government, supervision of employees, work with state lawmakers and communication skills, he said.
"I think he is going to be open and if there are issues that need to be addressed he'll address them," Knight said.
The trustees are not going to micromanage White, he said.
Knight said that White's starting date and salary as executive director are still to be determined.
White is currently paid $166,999 a year as the Department of Human Services' chief of staff, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.
The system's previous executive director, Clint Rhoden, was paid $181,499 a year. Rhoden announced his resignation in mid-March after 4½ years in the post, citing personal reasons.
He departed the system on April 28. Since then, Deputy Director Rod Graves has been serving as interim executive director.
The system's 15-member board of trustees includes 11 trustees who are elected by the working and retired members of the system; Republican State Auditor Dennis Milligan or his representative; Republican State Treasurer Mark Lowery or his representative; state Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva; and state Banking Commissioner Susannah Marshall.
Oliva and Marshall serve in Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' administration.
The system's trustees had interviewed eight candidates for the executive director's post over the past few weeks before Jim Hudson, chief of staff for the state Department of Commerce, withdrew his application on Monday after his interview on June 2, saying "I truly believe this isn't the right opportunity for me at this time."
Sanders, in a written statement Thursday, said that "Mark White is an outstanding public servant who has demonstrated his commitment to Arkansas across a nearly twenty-year career in state government.
"He has served my administration well as the Chief of Staff for DHS and I know he will do great work on behalf of Arkansas' teachers," the Republican governor said.
White has worked at the state Department of Human Services since February 2018 in various administrative posts, including a stint as secretary from October 2022-January 2023, and as director of legal services at the Arkansas Public School Resource Center from October 2016-February 2018, according to his application.
He previously held posts that included the state Department of Human Service from March 2013-September 2016; as staff attorney at the state Department of Education from May 2010-March 2013; a partner in a law firm from November 2006-April 2010; an administrative law judge at the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission from July 2003-October 2006; and as regulatory policy liaison for then-Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee from June 1999-June 2003. Huckabee is Gov. Sanders' father.
Department of Human Services spokesman Gavin Lesnick said Thursday in a written statement that "Mark White has been a valued member of the DHS team for many years, and he has worked tirelessly in different roles here to further our mission and to serve our beneficiaries.
"We are grateful for his dedication and thank him for the positive impacts he has made on this agency as well as Arkansans all across this state," Lesnick said in a written statement.
"While we are sorry to see him depart DHS, we wish him the best in his new role."
White wrote in a letter dated April 16 to the teacher retirement system's Board of Trustees that "I pride myself on my ability to navigate complex policy and operational issues, leading teams by example through collaboration and communication.
"I have a proven track record of earning the trust of colleagues, clients and legislators by being open, upfront and honest. And I am known for working with calm resolve in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment," he said.
In his letter, White said that he knows that "job number one is reaching out to and taking care of our system members and employers.
"I have a personal stake in this since I and the members of my family are members of ATRS," he wrote.
"As Executive Director, I will make it a top priority to ensure that every member and employer is treated with respect and kindness, and that every employee is responsive and diligent in addressing needs."
White has a bachelor's degree in political science and communications from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and a law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville.
He listed former Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie; state Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton; state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage; Arkansas State University System Vice President for University Relations Shane Broadway; and former Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Chief of Staff Alison Williams as his references.
The teacher retirement system is the state government's largest retirement system, with more than $20 billion in investments and more than 100,000 working and retired members.
The six other candidates that the trustees interviewed for the executive director post included:
Arkansas Tech University Governmental Affairs Director Gina Lockwood, who is a former chief operating officer at the state Department of Education.
State Treasurer Senior Investment Officer James Pulley.
Former state Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, who is the executive director of practice transformation for the White River Health System.
Teacher Retirement System Information Systems Manager Michael Lauro Jr.
Teacher Retirement System Real and Alternative Assets Investment Manager Jerry Meyer.
Teacher Retirement System Associate Director of Information Technology Mullahalli Manjunath.
Fourteen applicants initially applied for the executive director's job before attorney Bud Cummins, who is a former U.S. attorney, withdrew his application.
"While I would relish this challenge if given the responsibility, upon reflection I have determined the timing is not good for me," Cummins wrote in an email to system Human Resources Manager Vicky Fowler last month.
During the previous 20 years, the teacher retirement system has hired two former state lawmakers and promoted Rhoden, the system's then-associate director of operations, to head the agency.
George Hopkins, who served as the system's director from December 2008 through November 2018, is a former Democratic state senator from Malvern.
David Malone, a former Democratic state senator from Fayetteville, headed the agency from 2003-2007.