Georgia's list of highest-paid employees includes Adams, three making $1 million

Michael Adams hasn't been president of the University of Georgia for 2 1/2 years, but he still showed up on a list of top 10 highest-paid university system employees in 2015.

The list, compiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution using the state's salary database, includes  three Georgia college presidents who were paid more than $1 million in fiscal 2015, which ended June 30.

The state's salary site, Open Georgia, does not include all the outside money that employees receive - such as foundation money funding the big salaries of football coaches.

Excluding coaches, the highest-paid staffers in the University System in fiscal 2015 were: Ricardo Azziz, then-president of Georgia Regents University, now Augusta University, at $1.14 million, Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson, $1.1 million, and Georgia State President Mark Becker, at $1.07 million.

Adams was 10th on the university system list, earning $676,931 as president emeritus. The man who replaced him, Jere Morehead, came in 7th, at $745,994.

While tuition has skyrocketed for students and most university system employees have received little in the way of raises the past four or five years, the top presidents have seen their salaries skyrocket.

Peterson and Becker saw their pay jump 84 percent and 94 percent since fiscal 2012, according to Open Georgia. That's largely because the Board of Regents gave both huge "retention" payments last year, hoping to keep them from jumping to other jobs. At least some of the extra retention money came from the school's foundations.

Azziz's salary jumped nearly 80 percent, but again, there were extenuating circumstances. Azziz announced his resignation midway through the 2014-2015 school year. Charles Sutlive, spokesman for the system, said the Regents agreed to give Azziz an extra $470,000 payment as he headed out the door that boosted his total take.

Adams was granted two years worth of salary when he announced his resignation. Sutlive said he was paid "to be a resource and teach an occasional class."

Such payments to college presidents after they leave office, while controversial, have been common in the University System over the past few decades.

Among non-university staffers, the highest paid were Charles Cary, chief investment officer of the Teacher Retirement System, at $764,516, and Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, at $637,355.

Their pay has jumped 25 percent and 30 percent since fiscal 2012. Cary is typically among the highest paid, in part because, on top of his salary, he is given "incentive pay" based on the system's investments performance. That has garnered some criticism in the past, since he earns about 15 times what the average teacher is paid and regularly got increases while educators got no raises during the Great Recession.

Foltz, who announced Wednesday plans to leave his job in June, has traditionally been among the highest paid state employees.

Number five on the list was University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby, at $497,000. Huckaby, a former lawmakers and state retiree, is paid less than his predecessor, Erroll Davis, whom he replaced in 2011.

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About the Author

James Salzer
James Salzer
James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.