About a dozen of outgoing-Gov. Sonny Perdue’s staff, appointees and department heads have landed high-paying state jobs in recent months, and most received big raises to go with their new posts.
In a few cases, staffers’ pay doubled, and almost all received salary increases of more than $10,000 a year, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. All but one of the staffers will earn more than $100,000 a year.
Combined, the dozen staffers made $1.3 million in their previous jobs, and they are making about $1.7 million now. That doesn’t include a former legislator earning a part-time salary who Perdue appointed to lead an agency.
Perdue officials said many of those who took the new jobs are making less than their predecessors.
The big pay hikes come at a time when most of the state’s 200,000 employees and public school teachers have gone two years without pay raises. In fact, many employees and teachers saw their pay drop during the state’s fiscal crisis because they had to take furlough days.
Last week, Channel 2 WSB-TV and the AJC reported that outgoing State Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin recently granted raises to 41 employees.
In Perdue’s case, the raises came when he appointed staff to high-level, open state jobs or recommended them for new posts or they were hired by state agencies.
The practice of outgoing governors finding state jobs or appointments for staff is known as “burrowing in,” and is fairly common across the country. Staff members who want to remain on the state payroll find places to land before a new administration comes in.
Bert Brantley, the governor’s spokesman, said the staffers filled key roles and were qualified for the new positions.
“As jobs came up, we had people who fit those roles very neatly,” Brantley said.
But big raises to high-salaried staffers don’t sit well with teachers and employees who have gone without pay hikes.
“We have teachers who work harder today with less pay thanks to the present governor and his friends,” said Dana Camp, a Fayette County science teacher. “Many teachers are unable to find a job because of budget cuts, but the governor and his cohorts will all make out like bandits while the people on the front lines take pay cuts and furlough days.”
David J. Holway, national president of the union that represents about 6,000 state and local public employees in Georgia, said, “Our members are making sacrifices every day to keep this state running, and the governor thanks them by handing out enormous raises to his already well-paid buddies. It’s disgraceful what’s he’s doing to state employees and the citizens they serve.”
The governor-elect has, for the most part, made no final decisions on personnel, said Brian Robinson, deputy chief of staff for communications for incoming Gov. Nathan Deal.
Brantley said Perdue has talked with Deal about personnel in the new administration, but there is no guarantee all the outgoing governor’s appointees will keep their jobs.
Perdue leaves office in January after two terms as governor.
In addition to top pay, the new jobs have long-term benefits. A staffer who works for a governor through two four-year terms will be two years short of vesting in the state retirement system. So an administrative staffer benefits from a few extra years on the state payroll, becoming eligible for retirement benefits based on longevity and his highest salary.
A staffer with 10 years in the pension system whose top salary averaged $120,000 over 24 consecutive months could earn a maximum annual payment of about $24,000 on retirement at age 60.
Perdue’s staff shuffling this year ramped up after state lawmakers left town last spring.
The governor announced in June that Jim Lientz, his chief operating officer, is returning to the private sector and Ken Stewart, head of the state’s economic development agency, was taking a newly created, $240,000-a-year position at Georgia Tech as a senior adviser for industry strategies.
To replace Lientz, Perdue brought in Trey Childress, who had been running his budget office. Childress’ salary was bumped up from $124,000 to $139,500. Deal announced Friday that he will retain Childress.
Childress was replaced by the Office of Planning and Budget deputy director Debbie Dlugolenski, whose salary went from $138,312 to $155,000. Both Childress and Dlugolenski’s salaries are higher than the pay of the previous holders of their jobs, according to state accounting office figures.
Misty Giles, a onetime confidential secretary at the governor’s mansion who became Perdue’s public safety adviser three years ago, joined the budget office. Her salary jumped from $41,200 to $90,500. State accounting officials said that’s less than the pay of the staff member she replaced.
Erin Hames, Perdue’s policy director, landed at the Department of Education as chief of staff. Her salary working for the governor was $74,800 last year. With the DOE this year, it’s $144,200. However, a DOE official said last week that she has been asked to resign as a new school superintendent takes over in January.
Perdue made several other appointments over the past few months, including putting Democratic Rep. Rob Teilhet in charge of the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council after appointing the agency’s director to the bench. Teilhet is married to Perdue’s former press secretary. His job pays $128,750. Teilhet said after he was appointed in September that he didn’t ask for the post and was surprised when Perdue offered it.
The one Perdue staffer who didn’t get a raise was his longtime chief financial officer, Tommy Hills.
Hills has worked for Perdue since 2003. He was made state treasurer to replace Dan Ebersole, a state government veteran who had worked for several administrations. Hills’ salary remained $130,308, less than Ebersole made.
Tom Lewis, a Georgia State University lobbyist who was chief of staff for Democratic Gov. Joe Frank Harris, said it’s not unusual for outgoing governors to help find jobs for loyal staffers.
Lewis said that in 1990, when Harris was finishing his second term, he met with about 80 staffers to find out if they wanted help getting jobs.
“I felt responsibility because they were family,” Lewis said. “There was a feeling that you want to help them get placed if they want to stay in state government.”
Lewis said if employees had particular agencies they wanted to join, he placed calls to department heads to see if there were openings.
“We didn’t say, ‘you’ve got to take this person.’ We said, ‘what have you got?’ ” Lewis said.
Lewis said he also talked to incoming Gov. Zell Miller to recommend people for jobs.
Rick Dent, who served as press secretary to Miller, said the University System in particular is attractive to administration staffers because colleges often pay better than state agencies. Some of Miller’s top staff got high-paying jobs at Georgia State University and the University of Georgia.
“They [colleges] have more varied positions than any other kind of agency in state government and they are looking for generalists,” Dent said. “You don’t see a lot of people burrowing in at Medicaid. That requires some kind of expertise.”
Brantley said Perdue let staffers know he was willing to talk to them about new jobs as his tenure neared its end.
While top people often get new jobs well before a governor leaves office, Brantley said the slow economy may have played a role in so many Perdue workers sticking it out until the final few months. Fewer private- industry jobs were available, and budget cuts over the past few years meant there were probably fewer state government options as well.
Hills, a longtime Wachovia executive, said he was contacted by some financial service industry folks about jobs. But Hills said he enjoyed his time working for Perdue and took the treasurer’s job because he thought he could help the state.
“I felt like I had learned so much about how the financial end of state government worked, and I know we were in a financial challenge ... that perhaps I could help,” Hills said.
Hills said the potential to accrue enough time to be vested in the retirement system probably wasn’t as important to Perdue’s staffers as it might have been in past administrations.
“The folks who worked in Governor Perdue’s team ... were either very young and so far from retirement ... or they were the older group who already retired from previous careers and already have benefits,” he said.
“I don’t think any of us figured we would spend 10 years [in state jobs] when we came, so we weren’t really looking for that.”
WHO MOVED WHERE
Some top state staffers who have switched jobs in recent months and their salary changes:
- Old Job: Governor’s Office, deputy executive counsel and deputy chief operating officer
- Old salary: $113,500
- New job: Executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority
- New salary: $135,000
- Old Job: Governor’s Office, government affairs director
- Old salary: $93,700
- New Job: Deputy commissioner of Department of Economic Development
- New salary: $125,000
- Old Job: Deputy commissioner of Department of Economic Development
- Old salary: $123,600
- New Job: Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development
- New Salary: $150,000
- Old job: Division director with the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget
- Old salary: $109,798
- New job: Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council
- New salary: $120,000
- Old job: Governor’s office policy director
- Old salary: $74,800
- New job: Chief of staff, Department of Education
- New salary: $144,200
- Old job: Governor’s public safety adviser
- Old salary: $41,200
- New job: Division head at the Office of Planning and Budget
- New salary: $90,500
- Old job: Deputy director, Office of Planning and Budget
- Old salary: $138,312
- New job: Director, Office of Planning and Budget
- New salary: $155,000
- Old job: Director, Office of Planning and Budget
- Old salary: $124,000
- New Job: Governor’s Office, chief operating officer
- New salary: $139,500
- Old job: Governor’s Office, chief financial officer
- Old salary: $130,308
- New job: State treasurer
- New salary: $130,308
Jannie Marie Miller
- Old job: Governor’s transportation adviser
- Old salary: $88,580
- New job: Executive director, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority
- New salary: $120,000
- Old job: Director, Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs
- Old salary: $114,280
- New job: Commissioner, State Personnel Administration
- New salary: $134,000
- Old job: Commissioner, Department of Economic Development
- Old salary: $156,818
- New job: Senior advisor for industry strategy, Georgia Tech
- New salary: $240,000
Sources: State Accounting Office, University System, Governor’s Office