County department heads get big bonuses amid budget woes

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By AJ Vicens

Amid talk of budget woes and the possibility that some county workers would get no raises at all, some Jeffco department heads snagged raises and bonuses that totaled up to $20,000 over the last 18 months.

Two of the department heads that report directly to County Administrator Jim Moore — Administrative Services Director Todd Leopold and Transportation and Development Director Tim Carl — each received $10,000 base-pay increases in 2007, along with $5,000 bonuses in 2007 and 2008.

Ralph Schell, community resources and open space director, received $5,000 bonuses in 2007 and 2008 in lieu of base-pay increases.

Meanwhile, Director of Human Services Lynn Johnson was given two $5,000 base-pay increases within a year of being hired in July 2007, amounting to a 9 percent raise. Just 14 of the 896 non-director county employees earned an average annual salary increase of 9 percent in the last five years, according to financial data obtained through open records requests.

Base pay for the four department heads after the raises is as follows: Leopold and Carl both make $125,000 annually, while Schell makes $126,800 and Johnson receives $120,000.

The bonuses and raises for the department heads in Jeffco government were approved as the county was forced to cut $12 million from the budget and close to a third of county employees were told they might not get raises at all.

Moore said that bigger bonuses and raises for employees who make higher salaries are normal, and that even though raises and bonuses handed out by managers are subjective, they are fair.

"They're tied to salary, which is a reflection of the job's value to the organization and to the job market," Moore said recently.

County Commissioner Jim Congrove, who has had disagreements with Moore in the past, wasn’t pleased with the bonuses.

"When I found out about it, I was frankly shocked,” Congrove said. “Especially the amounts. What really upsets me is that the employees of the county were told we have to cut back on this and that, we brought in the Citizens Budget Review Panel, took all those people's time to evaluate the budget and make recommendations based on information that the county gave them, had numerous employee meetings, took away the (employees') matching retirement benefit, and yet we have money for this?"

Moore defended the bonuses and raises given to the four department heads who report to him. He cited added responsibilities as a result of eliminating two department-head positions as reasons for the salary increases and bonuses for Leopold and Carl.

Meanwhile, Johnson's base-pay increases were the result of positive employment reviews, Moore said. Johnson was hired at $110,000 and now earns $120,000 per year.

The four department heads' bonuses averaged $5,000 in 2007 and 2008, compared to an average countywide bonus of $1,274 for employees between June 2007 and July 2008. Division heads' bonuses averaged $4,872.50 in the first half of 2008 and the last half of 2007.

The average bonus given to department heads countywide — including those working for the county's elected officials — has been $1,900.58 over the last five years. That is more than double the countywide non-director bonus — $704 — for the same time period. Non-director employees have seen their annual salaries increased at a slightly higher rate than their superiors' over the last five years, according to the data.

County spokeswoman Kathryn Heider defended the bonuses.

"Bonuses cost the county less over time, as they do not increase the annual base salary or provide any additional retirement contribution," Heider said. "Bonuses may be given for taking on additional job responsibilities as 'acting pay' or 'lump sum in lieu of raise' for employees near or at the top of their salary range. They reward continuing good work without increasing base pay. In several cases, employees may not have an actual salary increase in four or five years."

Heider said Moore eliminated the support services and human resources director positions at a savings of $250,000 in salary and benefits annually, and those responsibilities were given to Carl and Leopold.

Moore also said that county leadership never told employees they wouldn't get raises, only that the past method of allocating a certain amount of money in the budget for raises was over.

"We said to department heads and elected officials that we encourage you to find ways to give increases," Moore said. "Look at your priorities and look at ways to get people raises."

Some county offices had trouble finding money to give raises. The sheriff's office initially told deputies it would not be funding raises because of the budget cuts. But Sheriff Ted Mink and his leadership staff recently announced that changes to staffing times and levels in the jail allowed them to give a 3 percent increase earlier this summer.

Two-thirds of the county's 2,840 full-time employees were given raises between June 2007 and July 2008, and 286 were given bonuses during that period.

Moore said that top performers should get higher raises and bonuses but said no policy is in place to ensure that top performers at lower job levels are rewarded like their managers and department heads.

"We don't have a system that does that," Moore said, adding that the county might adopt such a system as a result of an upcoming compensation study. He added that the "challenge" is to make sure supervisors and managers are evaluating their employees using the same general benchmarks.

"Compensation procedures are silent on bonuses," Moore said.

Moore said that he routinely looks into bonuses or raises that seem unusual.

Elected officials' salaries are set by the state legislature and can't be changed while an official is in office. Moore said that the county commissioners had not given him any feedback, negative or positive, on the amount some employees have made through raises or bonuses.

County Commissioner Kevin McCasky said myriad jobs in county government have different levels of responsibility, necessitating bonuses and compensation be given at different levels.

McCasky also said Moore has saved the county tens of thousands of dollars with the elimination of the two department head positions.

"The variability of the jobs that are performed in county government really don't lend themselves to uniformity," McCasky said. "The varied nature of the skill sets our employees are required to have, I think, warrant flexibility and discretion by managers and supervisors in assessing their performance."

McCasky said he "can't address" perceptions employees may have about their managers and supervisors receiving disproportionate bonuses and raises, and the compensation study that the county is hiring a firm to do in the coming weeks should paint a clearer picture of the situation.

He agreed with Moore that there should be guidelines to determine appropriate bonuses and raises for all employees.

"I do believe there should be general parameters for bonuses; there should be guidelines to assist our supervisors at any level in helping them determine what is a fair bonus, and this is a process that takes continual attention, and that's what we're going to give to it," McCasky said. "Our senior executives take performance evaluations seriously, do their best to remove subjectivity, and do their best to do this fairly."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.