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We’ll Miss You, Tom!

OPERS bids a fond farewell to Tom Spencer, who is leaving OPERS after serving as executive director for 11 years to become the executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System.

Starting his tenure at OPERS in August 2003, Tom helped to pass meaningful pension reform legislation and guided OPERS through many important changes. Among those changes were moving away from paper and microfilmed records to an electronic document imaging system, replacing a legacy computer system with a modern pension administration system, establishing a call center to handle a growing number of inquiries from members and participating employers, and rolling out a financial literacy education program for members.

On the legislative front, Tom fought to address unfunded benefit increases during a time of weakening in the financial condition of OPERS. He received approval from the OPERS Board of Trustees to advocate for the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act, which enacted a financially prudent means for the Legislature to consider pension legislation. The Board also backed numerous pieces of legislation Tom suggested to improve funding and close costly loopholes. The actuarial funded ratio for OPERS has been over 80% for three straight years and the System has collected slightly more than actuarially required contribution rate in each of those years.

“I am tremendously proud of the reform we achieved that strengthened the OPERS pension system. But I am the most proud of leaving OPERS better off than I found it, and the enormously talented staff that I have helped build. They are great people and I will miss them very much. In addition, I would have had no success without a series of dedicated and supportive trustees to work for.”

When Tom took over in 2003, OPERS had about $4.6 billion in assets. Today, the System has in excess of $8 billion in assets and serves 43,000 active members, 32,000 benefit recipients, and 300 participating employers. He leaves OPERS as only the fifth person to lead the agency in its 50-year history.

Tom has served the state of Oklahoma for nearly 30 years, beginning his public service as a legal intern for Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright in 1980 while attending the University of Oklahoma College of Law. After a brief stint in an Oklahoma City law firm, Tom returned to the attorney general’s office in 1983 where he spent 8 ½ years serving three attorneys general. He represented both the Teachers Retirement System and the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System and served as the attorney general’s bond counsel for most of his tenure.

When Robert Butkin, his former colleague at the AG’s office, was elected state treasurer, Tom joined his office as the chief of staff and deputy treasurer in 1995, where he served until January 2003. Tom was the treasurer’s designee to the State Pension Oversight Commission. He also helped Butkin start the Oklahoma College Savings Plan and the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund.

Tom left the treasurer’s office to serve as Governor Brad Henry’s first general counsel. When the position of executive director of OPERS opened up after the governor’s first legislative session concluded, Tom asked the governor for his blessing to apply and was selected among many other candidates by the OPERS Board of Trustees, beginning his tenure at OPERS.

Best wishes, Tom. We will miss you.

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