Nebraska state treasurer tapped to head state retirement agency

By: - August 21, 2023 2:09 pm
John Murante speaks before a legislative committee

State Treasurer John Murante testifies in support of legislation that would expand Nebraska’s NEST 529 educational savings plans on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional detail and comments from Jason Hayes and Gov. Jim Pillen.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s state constitutional officers will be getting a shake-up this year after a state agency selected Treasurer John Murante on Monday as its next director.

Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante interviews for director of the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Board voted 6-0 (with member Allen Simpson abstaining) for Murante to lead the board that oversees Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems (NPERS), which administers state retirement plans.

Murante must step down from the State Treasurer’s Office to lead the retirement board.

Gov. Jim Pillen will need to select a successor who will serve the remainder of Murante’s term through 2026.

“I look forward to the opportunity to keep serving the people of Nebraska in some form or fashion,” Murante told the board Monday.

Just last fall, voters reelected Murante through 2026. His constitutional salary is $85,000. His pay is likely to more than double in the director’s role — Randy Gerke, the retiring director, was paid about $185,000. Gerke will exit from the director’s seat no later than Sept. 10.

Murante applied for the position on June 21, according to his application.

Successor search begins immediately

Laura Strimple, a spokesperson for Pillen, said Monday night that the governor was aware of Murante’s application and thanked him for his service as state treasurer.

“His [Murante’s] experience, knowledge and commitment to public service made him a clear choice for this appointment,” Pillen said in a statement.

Pillen added that the process to receive applications for someone to succeed Murante will begin immediately. He said he is looking for someone with a “strong commitment” to serve as treasurer and who will campaign for the role again in 2026.

‘We’re excited to start’

Board Chair Kelli Ackerman is charged with negotiating Murante’s contract, and she told the Nebraska Examiner it will specify that Murante must secure Pillen’s approval and then a majority of the Legislature in 2024 before the contract is “final.”

Kelli Ackerman, chair of the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems board, at left, leads an Aug. 21, 2023, meeting selecting the agency’s next director. Randy Gerke, the retiring director, sits at right. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Murante can start as soon as he indicates he can, Ackerman said. His negotiated contract is slated to be considered next month.

“We’re excited to start with a new director and get going right away,” Ackerman told the Nebraska Examiner after the meeting. “We think John will be a great leader.”

Board Vice Chair Janis Elliott said the board especially considered the applicants’ leadership qualities, knowledge of NPERS retirement plans and the state budget and legislative processes, managerial experience and communication skills.

Murante, a former state senator, pointed to strong relationships with Pillen, legislators and other elected officials as a benefit if the board chose him. He said that through his roles in the Legislature and the Treasurer’s Office, he had worked with all public boards and commissions in the state and has worked closely with NPERS as the custodian of the agency’s funds.

The soon-to-be former treasurer described the role of the retirement director as an advocate for the agency’s board. He said this includes asking staff what they need to be successful and getting it for them.

Legislature rejected past agency pick

This is the second time the board has made a final director pick this year after the Legislature, in a rare move in May, reconsidered and then rejected the agency’s recommendation of Jason Hayes, a current lobbyist for the Nebraska State Education Association. 

Hayes applied for the position again this summer, on June 15. He defended his managerial experience and cited the closeness of the ballot initiative to repeal Legislative Bill 753, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, as impacting his nomination. The NSEA has been a major supporter of that initiative.

Pillen had already approved Hayes for the director role, and lawmakers approved Hayes with 29 votes in a May 25 vote. 

However, days later, State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln filed a successful motion to reconsider that vote, and Hayes received 20 votes, short of the needed 25 in a May 31 vote.

In addition to Hayes and Murante, Tyler Cummings, the agency’s deputy director, was the board’s third finalist. He has been with the agency since 2019 and applied on July 1.

Hayes said in a text that he is disappointed he wasn’t selected Monday but wishes Murante “all the best.”

“The work of the state retirement system is critically important to thousands of retired Nebraskans and their families,” he said.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, double-majoring in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C., and has reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan.