Education

Most state employees got a $1,000 raise. This UNC-Chapel Hill staffer got $50,000.

The Old Well on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. 2016 N&O file photo

A high-level administrator at UNC-Chapel Hill got two $25,000 raises in a month’s time this summer, after working at the university for just six months.

Clayton Somers, former chief of staff to Republican N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, now makes $331,448. He started his job as vice chancellor of public affairs and secretary of the university on Jan. 9 at a salary of $280,000.

The $50,000 pay raise – in two increments on June 1 and June 30 – represents a nearly 18 percent salary increase. It came just before the state budget took effect July 1, which gave most other state employees a flat $1,000 raise. The budget also included a provision that required the UNC Board of Governors to monitor any raises of 5 percent or more for employees making more than $100,000.

Somers’ position was a newly created job at UNC. At the time of his hiring, Chancellor Carol Folt said in a news release that Somers would be “a tremendous asset as we assess the university’s future needs and vital role in serving North Carolinians.”

Somers was paid $158,500 when he worked for Moore at the legislature.

somers_clayton (1)
Clayton Somers UNC-Chapel Hill

Email records obtained by The News & Observer show there was discussion last year between the UNC system General Administration and UNC-Chapel Hill behind the scenes about the creation of the job and its salary.

Because the new job unusually combined the duties of being secretary to the trustees and liaison to the legislature, there was no match to the system’s job classifications and salary range guidelines. Initially, system staff considered two pay ranges – one between $171,000 and $342,000 and another, lesser one, from about $154,000 to nearly $308,000. The job was to oversee four or five employees.

In an email to Folt’s chief of staff, Felicia Washington, a vice chancellor, shared the salary ranges proposed by the UNC system. There was no named candidate attached to the position in the emails.

“Please see the salary range that is currently scoped out,” Washington wrote. “It does not get to the target requested.”

In a draft memo in June of 2016, Folt proposed a salary range of about $186,000 to $308,000, along with a detailed job description for the position.

Records show the system wanted to cap the job’s salary at $280,000 so that it wouldn’t exceed the salary of a comparable administrator at the system’s General Administration.

In a July 18, 2016, email, Matt Brody, the UNC system’s vice president for human resources, wrote to Washington at the Chapel Hill campus, informing her that UNC President Margaret Spellings wanted that limit.

“Also, the President made clear to me this morning when she gave this the go-ahead that the salary for the new (vice chancellor) shall not exceed that of the new (General Administration Senior Vice President) for External Affairs, which is $280K,” Brody wrote. “It may very well be less depending on who is selected, but you will want to make sure Carol knows that it shouldn’t exceed that amount.”

Brody also wrote that in the upcoming vote on the approval for the new position, the Board of Governors would ask questions, but it’s unclear what about. That part of the email is redacted.

Documents also show that the university considered two hiring processes – one with a standard search committee and one that would require a recruitment waiver.

UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chairman Haywood Cochrane said Tuesday that Somers’ raise reflected his performance in the new role. “It was subject to his performance evaluations, which were outstanding,” he said.

On Tuesday, Spellings said she did not have to approve the raise.

“As long as it’s within the bounds of the law and our requirements, I’m not going to substitute my judgment for Carol’s or any other chancellor’s,” Spellings said. “But I am going to hold them accountable to the performance agreements that they’re just in the process of signing, that are linked to the strategic plan.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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