Saunders: Only those closest to Tillis seem to reap his largesse

May 17, 2012 

Too bad House Speaker Thom Tillis’ tenderheartedness toward his top aide doesn’t trickle down to all state workers. (Try saying that three times really fast.)

Even more difficult than saying that, though, is trying to feed your family as a state employee without a raise for the past four years. Of course, if you’re close enough to Tillis to touch the hem of his garment, prying loose a raise isn’t a problem – even after you no longer work for him.

As reported in Thursday’s N&O, Tillis sliced off a hunk of taxpayer cheese to lay on his former top aide, Charles C. Thomas. Citing an obscure bill from – get this – the United Kingdom, Tillis paid his former chief of staff $12,500 “in lieu of notice” after Thomas resigned in lieu of his affair with a married lobbyist being made public.

Fret not, though. Proving that he is not sexist, Tillis also bestowed a lovely, parting, taxpayer-funded gift upon a second employee, policy adviser Amy Hobbs. She received $6,833.33 after she resigned upon disclosing an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist.

As Tillis told The N&O, the pay in lieu of notice was to soften the devastating blow suffered by Hobbs and Thomas after losing their jobs.

Yes, but they lost them because of their own actions, so why do taxpayers have to help soften their landing?

Using taxpayer money

As observers of the biblical entreaty to “let he who is without sin – pick up some,” we shouldn’t judge the morality of Thomas, Hobbs or any other employees who may have engaged in inappropriate relationships.

As taxpayers, though, we have every right to question the justification for Tillis using our dough to bid the dallying duo adieu.

Had Tillis taken the money from his personal checking account, he’d be hailed as a swell fellow who didn’t turn his back on two former employees in distress. Had that been the case, we could actually applaud his desire to help a former employee of whom he was quite fond. Remember that 25 percent raise Tillis gave Thomas, from $120,000 a year to $150,000, even as he was vowing to cut taxes and his staff payroll?

The money for Thomas and Hobbs didn’t come from his personal account, though. It came from us. State employees who’ve forgotten how to spell “pay raise” certainly aren’t applauding, because while Thom the Tenderhearted seems to have an affinity for his employees, Thom the Terrible seems to show no such goodwill toward state employees.

Dana Cope, head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said Tillis is simply following an old legislative tradition in giving them the back of his – er, hand. “We’re the redheaded stepchildren of the state,” Cope said. “It’s not right, but Tillis is doing what Easley and Black did, taking care of their political appointees” and ignoring state workers. Or declaring war on them.

Remarks about teachers

Who can forget the open-mike night a year ago when Tillis vowed to “give them a little taste of what’s to come” after introducing a bill to prevent the teachers union from collecting dues through payroll deductions?

He also has said teachers don’t care about kids, but only about their pensions. It’s hard imagining a worse thing one could say about members of a profession that teaches and shapes young minds, often at personal sacrifice.

You know that lucre Tillis is so fond of spreading to his employees and former employees?

Wouldn’t it be nice if he spread some of their way?

Cope agrees. “I hope (Tillis) treats other state employees the way he treats his political appointees,” he said.

Not unless they’re close enough to touch the hem of his garment, he won’t.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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