Meet the Board

PEBA’s Board of Directors is composed of 11 appointed members. Board members are either representative, meaning they belong to a class of employees or retirees they represent, or non-representative, meaning they do not belong to a class of employees or retirees.

Members of the PEBA Board serve four-year terms. Members may not serve more than two consecutive terms. Learn more about the qualification requirements of PEBA Board Members in the S.C. Code of Laws, Title 9, Chapter 4.

Sowards is former chairman of the board for Nexsen Pruet, a position in which he was responsible for shaping the firm’s vision and strategy. A leader within Nexsen Pruet, his practice is focused on the areas of real estate, corporate and finance law. He represents commercial lenders, real estate developers and closely held businesses on a variety of matters. His practice includes extensive experience with all aspects of shopping center and hotel development, as well as all aspects of commercial lending including troubled debt restructuring and workouts. Sowards’ corporate practice consists of general representation of businesses on all matters related thereto including finance, acquisitions, mergers, employment, contracts and business negotiations.

Sowards grew up in Texas. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Tennessee and his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army in 1975 and served for four years on active duty before heading to law school. Sowards spent 10 years as an active reservist. Sowards is active in his community and served as a leader in a Boy Scout troop for nearly 12 years and as a youth sports coach for almost 14 years.

Sowards has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than 35 years and has two grown sons.

Blankenship has been a teacher in Sumter County Schools for 23 years. She is carrying on a family tradition that was handed down from her grandfather who is a former Deputy Superintendent of Education for the State of South Carolina. Blankenship currently teaches Honors English for grades 9-12 at Sumter High School. She achieved National Board Certification and served on the Sumter County School District Consolidation Committee.

Blankenship is a native of Orangeburg, SC and received a BA in Secondary Education from Clemson University in 1994. She earned a Masters of Arts in English Education from South Carolina State University in 2001. Blankenship has been married for 23 years and has a son and a daughter.

Blumenthal is the Managing Shareholder of the Charleston Unit of the McNair Law Firm. She joined the firm in September 1991 and was elected a shareholder of the firm in March 1998. Her background, prior to attending law school, includes experience in various areas of real estate development. Blumenthal practices corporate, banking and business transactional law, with a concentration on commercial lending, real estate finance and UCC secured transactions, including loan workouts and restructuring of debt. She is also involved in many aspects of public finance transactions, as bank letter of credit or liquidity provider counsel or as company corporate and real estate counsel.

Blumenthal served as the Corporate, Banking and Securities Law Section Delegate to the South Carolina Bar House of Delegates from 2010 to 2011 and is currently the Chair of the Legal Opinion Ad Hoc Committee of the Corporate, Banking and Securities Law Section. She is also a member of the Association of Advisory Board of the Working Group on Legal Opinions, as the state representative on behalf of the Corporate, Banking and Securities Law Section of the Bar.

Outside of her legal practice, Blumenthal is actively involved in professional organizations. She is also actively involved in the community and served three terms on the Board of Directors of the Junior League of Charleston, Inc. (2005 - 2009).

Elam is a financial advisor with LPL and the CEO of EFinancial Advisors. This is a wealth management and insurance planning firm which he founded in July 1992 after spending five years as a successful commercial and retail lender with Bank of America (formerly NationsBank). He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing degree and the American College in Bryn Mawr, PA with a Master of Science in Financial Services degree. Elam is a Registered Principal with LPL Financial and has achieved Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designee status from the American College in Bryn Mawr, PA. In addition, he holds the distinction of being the first African-American Brigadier General in the history of the SC Air National Guard and retired honorably with more than 33 years of military service.

In 2000, he was selected by The State newspaper in Columbia, SC, as one of 10 future business leaders of tomorrow. In 2010, Elam and his wife were honored for outstanding community service by the March of Dimes. In 2012, Elam was awarded the Whitney M. Young Leadership Award by the Indian Water Council’s Boy Scouts of America. In 2013, he was recognized in the US Black Engineers and Information Technology magazine as one of the Top Blacks in the Military and was also named Distinguished Hospital Trustee of the Year by the South Carolina Hospital Association. In 2014, Elam was selected to be included in the prestigious AT&T African American History Calendar. Elam currently serves on various Boards of Trustees.

Elam is author of the book, “Self-Reliance: What Do You Mean You Didn’t Know?” He is married to Mary Elam and they have three children and one grandchild.

Heisler retired from Sonoco Products Company in 2014 as Staff Vice President, Compensation and Benefits. He was responsible for providing strategic leadership and oversight for all of Sonoco’s global employee benefit and compensation programs.

Heisler joined Sonoco in 1994 as Manager of Compensation and Benefits. In 1996, he was promoted to Director of Employee Benefits. He previously held positions in human resource and employee benefits management with Tredegar Industries and Ethyl Corporation in Richmond, VA, with Joy Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, PA, and at Penn State University, where he was the University’s designated retirement counselor for the State Employees Retirement System of Pennsylvania. Heisler had more than 40 years of experience in employee benefits management, retirement and insurance.

A native of western Pennsylvania, Heisler graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Arts degree. For several years, he served as a board member for the Hartsville YMCA and Metro Board of the YMCA of the Upper Pee Dee. He has been a featured presenter and panelist at seminars and conferences and previously served as Chair of the Paper Industry Benefits Group.

Heisler has three daughters and four grandchildren.

Lewis retired from the State Treasurer’s Office after serving 24 years as Senior Assistant State Treasurer, primarily with Internal Audit responsibilities. Audits included heavy emphasis on the investments of the South Carolina Retirement Systems. Other responsibilities while at the Treasurer’s Office included: administration, banking, college savings programs, and court fines. Prior to serving in the State Treasurer’s Office, she served seven years as Internal Auditor for the South Carolina Retirement Systems. Some of that time included audit responsibility for the Employee Insurance Program.

A native of Spartanburg SC, Lewis received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Wake Forest University. She became a Certified Public Accountant while working with Price Waterhouse & Co. Lewis is involved in several professional organizations and has previous experience serving on various other Board of Directors.

Lewis is married, has three grown children and one grandchild.

Matthews is a former managing director of Haynsworth, Sinkler, Boyd, a position he held for seven years. Prior to holding that position, Matthews practiced corporate law with the Wall Street firm of Dewey Ballantine in its Washington office, and served in the U.S. Department of Justice during President Reagan’s second term. At the Department of Justice, he advised Attorney General Edwin Meese III and the White House on the selection of nominees for federal judgeships and served as special counsel to Attorney General Meese on the Iran-Contra investigation.

President Bush nominated Matthews to a judgeship on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. That nomination was one of 10 federal appellate court nominations that expired when the 110th Congress adjourned without Senate action. Matthews is involved in various professional organizations and civic activities.

Mueller is the sheriff of Cherokee County. He took office on January 4, 2011. Mueller is a 1986 graduate of Westside High School in Anderson, SC. After graduation, Mueller attended Greenville Technical College and worked with the Anderson County Fire Commission, Center Rock and Centerville Fire Departments for several years before starting his law enforcement career with the South Carolina Highway Patrol in August of 1990. After graduating from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in November of 1990, he was assigned as a rookie trooper to Cherokee County. Mueller rose through the ranks of the South Carolina Highway Patrol from Lance Corporal to Corporal in 1998, Corporal to Sergeant in 2003 and from Sergeant to First Sergeant in 2008 serving as the Post Commander for Cherokee and Union Counties. Mueller also serves on the Board for the Cherokee County Salvation Army and The Know 2 Crime and Safety Group of Cherokee County. Muller has received numerous awards and recognition for his job performance over the past 30 years while serving the citizens of Cherokee County.

Mueller has served as a deacon and past deacon chairman of Kirby Baptist Church in Gaffney, SC. Mueller is married to the former Shannon Sprouse of Gaffney and they have one son.

Pearce, now retired, was Head of Student Health for American International Group (AIG). He has more than 42 years of experience in the insurance industry having begun his career in 1970 with Pearce & Pearce, Inc., the business established by his parents in 1948. His experience encompasses every aspect of claims administration including premium administration, waiver administration and underwriting implementation.

Pearce served two terms as Mayor of Florence from 1983-1991. During his tenure, Florence experienced unprecedented economic growth with many new industries locating in Florence County. New construction permit dollar totals in the City of Florence almost tripled during his terms. After serving as Mayor, Pearce became Chairman of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership.

In 2002, Pearce was awarded The Order of the Palmetto by the Governor of South Carolina and was named the 2002 South Carolina Ambassador for Economic Development. He has served on various local and statewide Board of Directors.

Pearce is married to the former Carolyn Gibbons Coker. They have four sons, three granddaughters and one grandson.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina School of Law and being admitted to practice in 1996, Shissias was a staff attorney at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). He represented DHEC’s Solid Waste Section, Bureau of Air Quality, Bureau of Water, Laboratory Certification and Environmental Health Division. Shissias regularly litigated contested cases involving permitting and enforcement matters involving air quality, solid waste, hazardous waste, storm water, laboratory certifications and 401 Water Quality Certifications. He also advised DHEC’s Office of Criminal Investigations and was appointed as a Special Assistant Attorney General to prosecute environmental crimes.

In February 2003, Shissias joined Haynsworth, Sinkler, Boyd, P.A. as an associate and became a shareholder in 2007. His practice emphasized client counseling; site development; environmental compliance; due diligence; environmental auditing; chemicals and consumer product regulation; brownfields and site redevelopment; contaminated site cleanup; superfund; zoning and land use regulation; state procurement; export control; and the state regulation of health care facilities.

In February 2012, Shissias established the Shissias Law Firm, LLC, continuing his practice of environmental and regulatory law. Shissias was awarded the 2014 Robert D. Spencer Award for outstanding volunteer advocacy by Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc.

Walton was named Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief Operating Officer for the University of South Carolina on March 1, 2014. Prior to that, he had served as Chief Financial Officer since March 1, 2011.

Walton first joined the University of South Carolina in 1997. With more than 30 years of experience in finance, accounting, and auditing, Walton has spent the past 20 years in positions of increasing responsibilities across a wide spectrum at the University. His service in various financial positions includes Director of Contract and Grant Accounting; Chief Financial Officer of the University of South Carolina Research Foundation; Chief Financial Officer for Health Sciences South Carolina, Chief Research Administrator, and Associate Provost for Finance and Administration. Walton serves on the Board of Governors of My Carolina Alumni Association, and as Co-chair of the Palmetto Health USC Medical Group Management Committee. Prior to joining the University, he served as Audit Supervisor in the State Auditor’s Office. Walton also served eight years as a weather forecaster in the United States Air Force.

Walton graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in Accounting from Saint Leo College and is a Certified Public Accountant.