The PSPRS Executive Team ensures the efficient execution of the day-to-day operations of the PSPRS Administrative Office and is dedicated to administering all directives established by the PSPRS Board of Trustees.
Assistant Administrator & General Counsul
Chief Investment Officer
Michael Townsend – Administrator
A career public servant with two decades of government management experience, Michael Townsend was appointed to lead the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) as the system’s administrator in November 2019.
Townsend most recently worked as the deputy county manager for Coconino County. There he helped lead an organization of more than 1,100 employees with an annual budget of $160 million. Townsend led a multi-year planning process with the Coconino County Board of Supervisors that increased the county’s PSPRS funding status from 25 percent to 70 percent funded. The county’s CORP funded status increased from 65 percent to 100 percent funded.
Townsend served on the board of trustees for the civilian Arizona State Retirement System from 2004 to 2012, and served as chairman for two years. In 2014, the Arizona City/County Management Association awarded Townsend the Catherine Connolly Award as the outstanding assistant city/county manager in the state. Additionally, he served as the Coconino County’s interim county manager from November 2011 to August 2013.
Prior to joining the county, Townsend worked with the City of Flagstaff and in the private sector in the manufacturing and automotive industries. He is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, where earned his degree in accounting. In 2015, Townsend completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Michael Smarik – Deputy Administrator
With over four decades as an employee for the State of Arizona, Michael Smarik was appointed PSPRS deputy administrator in March 2020.
Smarik, a certified public accountant since 1983, most recently worked as interim State Comptroller for the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) – an agency he served for nearly two decades, over two separate time periods.
He began his time as a financial services system analyst, became the chief accountant and then the controller on the first stint with ADOA, before rejoining the agency, after spending time at the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), as the statewide payroll manager and eventually becoming the Deputy State Comptroller. In between these two periods of service at ADOA, he held several financial and leadership positions throughout a 20-year career with ADC. There he helped lead the department, which had a budget of over $670 million, in directing financial, payroll, procurement, audit, policy, facility management and construction services. He also spent two years with the Auditor General’s Office early in his career.
In addition, Smarik also served as a member of the Arizona State Retirement System Board of Trustees, a local board member for the Arizona Department of Corrections and as a member of the State of Arizona Deferred Compensation Board.
He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, where he earned his accounting degree.
Bret Parke – Assistant Administrator & General Counsel
Bret Parke, a fifth-generation Arizonan, joined PSPRS in 2018 as general counsel and assistant administrator. Parke came to the retirement system from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), where most recently he served as deputy director from 2015 to 2018.
Parke attended law school at Arizona State University, earning his Juris Doctor degree in 2003. He began his legal career at ADEQ as a staff attorney before rising to administrative counsel in 2010. He held that post until April 2012, when he was named general counsel for the Arizona Department of Administration and chairman of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Committee.
Before beginning his career as an attorney, Parke worked as a field ecologist, organic chemist and wastewater technician. A descendant of one of Arizona’s pioneer families – including his great-great grandfather, Gustav Becker, often referred to as “the father of U.S. Highway 60” – Parke’s passion is to continue his family’s long legacy of public service.
Erin Higbee – Assistant Administrator
Erin Higbee joined PSPRS as assistant administrator in 2023. Higbee came to PSPRS from the Arizona State Retirement System where she worked since 2003 and most recently served as assistant director of the financial services division and as chief financial officer. Prior to ASRS, Higbee spent 10 years in the role of audit supervisor/manager with two private sector firms.
Higbee earned her master’s of business administration from Grand Canyon University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting, and political science from San Diego State University. Higbee is both a certified public accountant and a certified government financial manager.
Mark Steed – Chief Investment Officer
Mark Steed began his work for PSPRS as a portfolio analyst in 2007. During his ensuing rise through the ranks, Steed has managed each of the PSPRS portfolio asset classes, including private equity investments, venture capital, fixed income, absolute return, private credit and global trading strategies. In 2019, Steed was promoted to Chief Investment Officer following a national search for candidates.
Steed was named by Money Market Intelligence as one of the U.S. public pension sector’s “Rising Stars.” He has played an instrumental role in transforming PSPRS’s $11 billion in investments from a traditional, stock-heavy portfolio to a modern, highly-diversified set of investments built to withstand market volatility while delivering significant returns.
Steed holds a Master of Science degree in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University and a Master of Business Administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, where he majored in Latin American Studies with a minor in Business Management.
In 2014, Steed concluded a four-year project as a forecaster for the distinguished Good Judgment Project, led by prominent behavioral economist Phil Tetlock. Prior to joining PSPRS, Steed worked in banking for JP Morgan Chase.
He serves as an advisory board member to the Investment Institute and the Institutional Limited Partners Association, and has the honor of publishing the first guest column on Farnam Street, a prominent investment industry blog and newsletter.