The Associated Press
SALEM - An experienced state natural resources manager is poised to become the new leader of Oregon's turbulent public employees retirement system, known as PERS.
Paul Cleary has headed the Oregon Water Resources Department for four years and previously led the Division of State Lands for five years. The pension system's board could confirm his appointment as early as next week.
"I think there's unanimous agreement that his skill set and everything else that Paul brings is what the agency needs at this point," said Mike Pittman, chairman of the PERS board.
At PERS, Cleary would take over operations of an agency trying to deal with a legislative overhaul and a record number of retirements. The agency also has a new board, and its director and deputy director have resigned in the past six months.
The 300,000-member system's costs have climbed in recent years while its average pension benefits have increased. That's led to larger bills for the state, local governments and school districts.
The Legislature and Gov. Ted Kulongoski made a number of changes last year in an effort to reduce costs, but the changes are being challenged in a lawsuit that's before the Oregon Supreme Court.
Cleary, 51, has a natural resources background, not a financial one. He has degrees in biology and water resources, and he was a natural resources adviser in the Wyoming governor's office before coming to Oregon.
Cleary, who was on a list of candidates forwarded by the governor's office, has headed the 165-employee water agency since mid-2000. It has a $29 million, two-year budget.
He would replace Jim Voytko, who resigned as PERS executive director in October 2003, citing differences with the new board that had taken office in September.
Philip C. Ward, Cleary's deputy director, would become the acting director of the water agency June 1 if Cleary gets the PERS job.