Public Employee Benefits Board names new COO |

Public Employee Benefits Board names new COO

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal

The Public Employee Benefits Board named Leslie Johnstone to replace Woody Thorne as chief operating officer on Thursday.

Thorne is retiring Oct. 2 after more than five years as director of the program that provides health benefits to more than 30,000 public employees and retirees including state workers.

Johnstone, 47, has been Thorne’s deputy since 2005. Prior to that, she spent two years as an analyst with the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Fiscal Division. She joined state service in 2001 as accounting officer for the benefits program.

The board discussed options including a regional or national search for a new executive and naming an interim chief to run the program. Chairman Terry Johnson and member David Smith both said the personnel department could help find qualified candidates to consider.

But member Jacque Ewing-Taylor said with major issues facing the benefits program, a legislative study on possible changes to PEBP and the 2007 Legislature just five months away, the program would be much better off with some one who already knows the state, the issues and the program.

“I have large concern about the upcoming Legislative session,” she said. “And I think there’s great value in having some one familiar with the Legislature, the budget office and the governor’s office.”

“Her knowledge of the entire process could be critical for us going into this legislative session.” Taylor said, adding that Thorne has strongly recommended Johnstone as his replacement.

Taylor was joined by several other members of the board including Randall Kirner who said she has more than three years experience with the program and “understands the directions we’re going.”

Board member Chris Campbell moved they forego the search and name Johnstone to the position effective upon Thorne’s retirement and the board agreed.

The job pays $116,688 a year.

“She’s going to do an excellent job,” Thorne said. “She provides continuity. She’s a known and respected quantity for the governor’s office, administration and the Legislature.”

Johnstone said the biggest tasks facing the benefits program are controlling health-care cost increases and providing affordable services as the baby boomers begin to retire.

Johnstone has a master’s of business administration from Fresno State. Before coming to Nevada, she worked for Fresno County 13 years and the unified school district there three years, primarily in budget and fiscal administration.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.