Archive for Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bonuses common for top staff

May 10, 2009

Advertisement

— When it comes to paying legislative staff, legislative leaders have a lot of leeway.

The leadership offices approve a set amount of money for salaries, and within that amount they decide how many people they want to hire, how much to pay them, and whether to give bonuses.

The pay issue arose last week after the Lawrence Journal-World reported one-time payments given to several House Republican leadership staff members, including $20,000 to Brent Haden as he started work at his $90,000 per year position as chief of staff to House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

This was in the context of an austere state budget year that has produced cuts in social services, education and health programs, and a proposal from House Republican leaders to cut the pay of state employees as part of the solution to balance the budget. That employee pay cut proposal eventually was abandoned.

House GOP leadership officials maintain they have been responsible stewards of tax dollars, saying that because of salary decreases in other areas, they are spending less this year than last year.

‘They did a great job’

According to a review of legislative leadership records for the past several years, one-time payments to House and Senate leadership staff members are not unusual.

For example, after former House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, was defeated by O’Neal to be speaker in December, he approved a $15,000 payment to his chief of staff Michelle Butler, and $10,000 to his communications director Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

“They did a great job for the Legislature and people of Kansas,” Neufeld said.

Jones-Sontag said the payment was part of what she had negotiated with Neufeld. Butler also said that leadership staffers work long hours and are not paid overtime. “Also, as a leadership staffer, certain risks are involved as they serve at the will of the employing member and are not guaranteed their position from year to year,” Butler said.

Derrick Sontag, who is now director of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, received a $7,500 one-time payment in November 2006 from then-departing speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.

Sontag said it was part of a total package that had been negotiated with Mays.

Reflecting economy

Senate President Steve Morris’ chief of staff Michael White receives $87,500 per year. He received a pay rate adjustment of $5,000 in May 2008 and $2,000 in December 2008.

White said, “The Senate President’s Office has taken positive steps to reflect current economic realities. Our budget has been cut over 5 percent, full-time staff has been reduced, and no raises or bonuses will be given this year.”

Some employees leaving leadership offices also receive large final checks that may include compensation for extra time worked, officials said.

“Generally, when a person leaves a leadership office, they have accumulated leave built up,” said Jeffrey Russell, director of Legislative Administrative Services. “It isn’t necessarily all just a bonus,” he said.

‘Based on performance’

State Treasurer Dennis McKinney, a Democrat, gave bonuses to his employees at the end of last year as he was leaving his position as the leader of the House Democratic caucus. He said he had done this in previous years too, and it wasn’t because he was leaving the legislative office.

His employees received bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $1,500.

The bonuses, he said, were based on performance and because his employees’ salaries were lower than those of other legislative staff.

“I always sat down with Jeff Russell ahead of time to make sure that we had the capacity to do it (pay bonuses),” McKinney said. “They put in a lot more hours than what was required, and it was based on performance,” he said.

Chief of staff salaries

When state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, was elected House Democratic Leader, he hired Craig Grant to be his chief of staff at $65,000 per year. But of that amount, Davis said he pays $5,000 from his campaign funds.

Other top staff of legislators and their salaries include Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley’s chief of staff, Tim Graham, $80,000; and House Majority Leader Ray Merrick’s chief of staff, Peter Freund, $73,000. During the current budget crisis, there have been no bonuses in Hensley’s office; Freund received a pay rate adjustment of $2,308 in December.

‘Vicious session’

Jane Carter, director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the public needs to be made aware of bonuses in light of attempts to cut state employee pay.

By many measurements, state employees in Kansas are among the bottom states in pay and benefits. A recent legislative report found that a third of the state employee workforce is significantly underpaid when their jobs are compared with the private sector.

“It was a vicious session,” she said of attempts by House GOP leaders to cut state employee pay or establish a furlough program.

Comments

Thinking_Out_Loud 6 years ago

The next-to-last paragraph reads "A legislative report from last year said that one in three state workers are making less than 25 percent what their job would pay in the private market." I think it is supposed to be "...make at least 25 percent less than their jobs would pay...."

As it's written, it means they make about 20% of what the job is worth in the private sector. I think the report actually said they make about 70% of private sector salaries.

Chris Ogle 6 years ago

Some employees leaving leadership offices also receive large final checks that may include compensation for extra time worked, officials said.

Wonder if they get paid extra if they think about something, while taking a shower?

Sharon Aikins 6 years ago

What I'm wondering as well is if these employees, whose jobs are dependent upon their boss being reelected, that are employed for only a few years are eligible for meaty state retirement packages as well? They know going in what the work entails, how it might not be standard hours. But still, at the salaries these people are making, I would be happy to work all the hours needed of me. Not all are that high but $90,000 plus a $20,000 bonus? Geesh!

yankeevet 6 years ago

I used too work at a place; and one day there was an inspection; all of the workers passed the inspection; which made the director look good. He (the director) got a bonus check; and we got 20 large "cheese" pizzas.........of which none of us ate them........

somebodynew 6 years ago

What this (and other articles) fail to fully explain is that "regular" full time State Employees are not the same as the "political hires" that get these bonuses. But they all seem to get lumped in together is this type of article.

I am not going to debate whether these bonuses are right, wrong, or deserved, I just want to point out that the regular State Workers are the ones who fall into the class that makes 25% less than they could if not working for the State. BUT, that is the group that was targeted earlier for the 5% cut in pay (taking them back to 1999 pay levels).

And for those who will come on here and say, just go somewhere else - - Are you hiring?? And who is going to answer the phone or respond to your request for a service needed from some State Agency if everyone moves on.

I guess I just wish these type of articles could point out the differences between how typical State Workers are treated and the polictical hires are.

jumpin_catfish 6 years ago

Well, yankeevet, maybe you should aspire to be the director instead of one of the whiner.

Chris Ogle 6 years ago

"And for those who will come on here and say, just go somewhere else - - Are you hiring??"

I know that feeling..... and nope, they were not hiring. Probably were broke after paying taxes.

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

I do not necessarily have a problem with staffers getting bonuses.

However, many in the extremist GOP deride other state agencies, particularly the universities, for the high salaries paid for professors and administrators.

This is simply hypocrisy.

It sometimes takes competitive salaries to attract and retain the best people. When the universities do this, the same GOP legislators who pay big bonuses to their staff often complain bitterly like good little populists.

Hypocrisy.

Phillbert 6 years ago

"Jones-Sontag said the payment was part of what she had negotiated with Neufeld. Butler also said that leadership staffers work long hours and are not paid overtime."

...yet the Legislature is only in town January to May. I doubt there is a lot of "overtime" the other 7 months of the year when there aren't any legislators in town.

“Also, as a leadership staffer, certain risks are involved as they serve at the will of the employing member and are not guaranteed their position from year to year,” Butler said.

...just like most everyone else in the real world who is not guaranteed a job. Boo-hoo.

I don't know which is worse, the Republicans' hypocrisy or their whining about how they really, really do deserve their big paydays.

deskboy04 6 years ago

I thought that the GOP was serious about cutting government spending. They seemed like they cared and wanted to eliminate excess spending.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

Can you imagine the outrage from Americans for Prosperity if these bonuses were exclusively from Democratic leaders or from the Governor?

AFP would be organizing rallies at the Statehouse, mass mailings, phone banks, the whole shebang.

Gee, Mr. Sontag. Where's the outrage over $17,500 worth of "bye bye bonuses" to you and your wife?

It is rare indeed to "negotiate" $17,500 in bye bye bonuses to convince you to quit a job. Talk about outrageous. Just further proof AFP has zero credibility.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 6 years ago

"They did a great job"

My wife has been hearing that from her boss at KU for a decade... but with no raise. She's paid $20K less than her counterpart at MU because the state has no money for increases.

How do these legislators sleep at night?

notajayhawk 6 years ago

Bob_Keeshan (Anonymous) says…

"Can you imagine the outrage from Americans for Prosperity if these bonuses were exclusively from Democratic leaders or from the Governor?"

Maybe you should try to educate yourself on this issue, Bob. This practice is common in state government around the country, including Democrat-controlled government bodies. (Remember the Pennsylvania bonus-gate?)

Thinking_Out_Loud 6 years ago

These folks are getting paid what the market will bear.

That's kind of how "free market" works.

Phillbert 6 years ago

"Maybe you should try to educate yourself on this issue, Bob. This practice is common in state government around the country, including Democrat-controlled government bodies."

So it is common for leaders of anti-government spending organizations (and their spouses) to live off the government via big salaries before taking bonuses for leaving their state jobs to run these front groups? And it is common for those supposedly non-partisan organizations to not say a word about Republican hypocrisy on the issue of state employee salaries?

Good to know.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

"Maybe you should try to educate yourself on this issue, Bob. This practice is common in state government around the country, including Democrat-controlled government bodies. (Remember the Pennsylvania bonus-gate?)"

This was the funniest thing I've read in weeks, and worthy of being quoted and posted again.

Thank goodness this story now includes an "education" on how common the practices is in state governments around the country, like Pennsylvania. And thank goodness in Pennsylvania nobody "got arrested" and the local anti-government/anti-spending AFP clones "ignored" the whole thing.

texburgh 6 years ago

It should be pointed out that salaried employees NEVER get overtime. You are paid a salary to get the work done no matter how long it takes.

As a salaried employee myself, I don't ask for or expect overtime. If I want overtime, I should demand an hourly rate.

The Sontags should know this better than anyone. These leaches sucked at the Government breast as long as they could for as much as they could and then Derick takes up working for an organization dedicated to destroying government and demanding the government do more for less. What hypocrites.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.