State grants uneven pay raises for workers

Even without promotions, pay rises for some state workers while others' pay stays put.

staff writersSeptember 14, 2010 

  • Though the vast majority of state employees got no pay increase this year, 2,314 workers received raises between April 1 and June 30, according to a state report. Of those:

    210 were discretionary increases for employees who had not been promoted.

    36 raises were deemed unjustified.

Thousands of state employees have gone without pay raises for two years while some of their colleagues have seen their wages swell 5 percent, 10 percent and more, even without getting promotions.

Top bureaucrats at the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Public Instruction received raises since June 2009.

Among them:

New SBI Director Gregory McLeod got an 8 percent raise, bringing his pay to $100,298, even before he moved up from the position of Justice Department lobbyist. McLeod got the raise for taking on more complex duties while he was working with legislators, said Julia White, chief policy adviser to Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Former head of the State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab, Jerry Richardson, got a 5 percent raise on June 1, less than three months before he was removed from his job. His increase to $98,481 a year came after a state salary study concluded that the pay for people running the lab should go up. The lab's deputy assistant director also got a raise. Richardson was recently fired after a News & Observer series and an audit questioned the lab's credibility and fairness.

They weren't the only ones getting raises. It turns out there are lots of ways for state employees to make more money, even in a lean year when legislators looked for $800 million to cut from the state budget and agencies begged to be spared.

An N&O analysis of salaries from June 2009 to June 2010 found 2,673 employees who got raises but have the same job title. The vast majority of these are people who are getting more money because they gained additional skills, moved from trainee to permanent jobs or are paid by the federal government. A smaller number are people who are getting more money because their duties expanded.

More than 2,300 raises

A state study released Monday found that 2,314 raises were handed out between April 1 and June 30.

Most were legitimate, state officials said, but the report flagged 36 cases where raises were not justified. The section of the study that would identify those employees was redacted, but they are in the departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Administration, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Crime Control, and Insurance, said Margaret Jordan, spokeswoman for the Office of State Personnel.

"Our attorneys have advised us that inappropriate salary increases are not public information," Jordan said.

Some will likely have to repay the state, she said.

Select employees ended up with more in their paychecks if agency leaders say they took on more responsibilities, even if their job titles don't show it. The agencies pay for the raises using money left over when they fill jobs with new employees who are paid less than their predecessors.

The state report showed that 210 state workers received discretionary raises. Agency leaders said the increases were justified by senior administrators, and in some cases, approved by the state personnel office.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, questioned the need for such raises, called "in-range salary adjustments," when the state is staring at a $3 billion budget hole in the year ahead.

Managers should not get increases at all, he said.

This month, Gov. Bev Perdue's administration told agencies to come up with ways to reduce spending by up to 15 percent next year.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat and one of the state's main legislative budget writers, said it's hard to know without examining individual cases whether raises are justified. But lawmakers have questioned some raises in the past, he said, and in some instances employees have had to return money.

Mental health payrolls

Administrators at state psychiatric hospitals trying to reverse their troubled history of inadequate oversight and questionable deaths were among those who got bigger paychecks.

Thomas Mahle, director of the state psychiatric hospital in Morganton, got an extra 10 percent for doing without an assistant director during Broughton Hospital's ongoing efforts to comply with federal standards. His salary went up to $126,500.

At Cherry Hospital, the personnel director and director of nursing each received 10 percent raises. Both had responsibilities added to their jobs, state officials said.

"For them to have given any kind of increases, they've had to document additional responsibility," said Lanier Cansler, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services. "There's nothing here that's 'just because I like you.'"

Raises at DPI

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson approved raises for top administrators in the department, including a 7.2 percent increase for chief academic officer Rebecca Garland and a 6.9 percent raise for deputy chief academic officer Angela Quick.

Atkinson said she divvied up some of the duties of a position the department no longer has, deputy superintendent, to Garland, who now makes $152,000, and Quick, who got an increase to $130,000.

She also approved raises starting in June for about two dozen employees, including a few secretaries. Those who received raises have taken on such different roles and added so many responsibilities that "they're in a new type of job," Atkinson said.

The department has lost 100 jobs, Atkinson said, and it has had to figure out how to do more with fewer people. Garland, for example, has taken on the task of approving teacher preparation programs at the state's colleges and universities. Quick has worked with national groups developing common educational standards and tests.

lynn.bonner.newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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