Public Pension Profiles: Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System (OHPRS) Executive Director, Carl Roark
Succession planning is a major challenge for small and mid-market plans, says Roark.
By Lizzy Lees, NCPERS
As part of an ongoing series of public pension executive profiles, NCPERS spoke with Carl Roark, Executive Director of the Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System.
Please note: This interview has been edited for clarity. If you would like to participate in a public pension profile interview, please contact email@example.com.
Tell me a little about the Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System (OHPRS) and the members you serve.
The Highway Patrol Retirement System is one of the five public pension funds in Ohio and the only single employer public pension fund in the state. We have approximately $1 billion in assets. OHPRS serves just over 1,500 retirees, and we have 1,400 active members that are contributing to the system. To manage that, we have a total eight staff, myself included. We serve at the pleasure of an 11-member board of trustees.
How did your experience working for the Ohio State Highway Patrol for nearly 30 years prepare you for your role as Executive Director of OHPRS?
I actually was a trustee for almost 10 years, and when I served on the board I wasn't convinced it was significantly important to be a former trooper to serve in this position. But after being here, it has been a tremendous benefit. Twenty of the thirty years that I served was in a command-level position, so I was able to move around the state and build relationships with a lot of our current members.
When the board has to make unpopular decisions—such as not providing COLA in a given year based on the actuarial valuation—I think it would be much more difficult if it was coming from someone what wasn't seen as one of them. In summary, I think I'm viewed as someone who has skin in the game, which has been very beneficial.
You became Executive Director of OHPRS in December 2019. What was it like starting in this position right before the COVID-19 pandemic began?
The pandemic set me back in some ways since I was just getting into this position and trying to get my feet under me. It limited the exposure and some of the education I may have achieved with building relationships with my counterparts in the industry. That included meeting with lawmakers or members of the legislature, as one of my roles is serving as the lobbyist for our organization.
That being said, I think it also provided an opportunity for us as an organization to take advantage of some technologies that I don't think we would be using today if we hadn't been forced into it. Our business continuity planning was tested, and it's even more solid today. I also think the collaboration we have as a team is much better as a result. Now, if we needed to close our office, we have the technology employees need to work remotely and not impact the quality of our customer service.
What challenges are unique to small and mid-market public safety plans like OHPRS?
Succession planning is a big challenge. It's nearly impossible to prepare staff internally to take on future positions that may become available because we have a total of eight staff, and we all wear many hats. For example, our general counsel is also our chief investment officer, and our finance director is also our benefits administrator. So we all have multiple roles that we fill in these positions, which makes it very difficult to have a good succession plan.
Moreover, I think key person risk is a real issue. Much of what each of our staff does on a regular basis is just not easily accomplished by anyone else. We work to do cross training to at least mitigate these issues, but any unexpected attrition would be harmful. And I think that's a unique challenge for smaller plans because of staff sizing.
As a faculty advisor for the 2023 Chief Officers Summit, what are you looking forward to most at this year's event?
Last year was my first Chief Officers Summit, and it was a great experience. I'm mainly looking forward to the networking opportunities at this year's event. I think it's just helpful to learn from my counterparts across the nation. Listening to the issues they're dealing with—and what they're doing to address these challenges—helps me better understand what we may experience in the future. It also helps me build relationships with my counterparts so that I can easily call on someone for advice.