DOVER — It seems a government job can be good career move — at least at the top and in Delaware.
Last year, 171 state employees were paid at least $150,000.
That number includes expected names like then Gov. Jack Markell, Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard and Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick.
But it also encompasses others, including individuals who work behind the scenes but are very well-compensated by the taxpayers.
Data from the Office of Management and Budget shows most of the top salary earners came from the legal, law enforcement, education or health fields: 55 judges, 49 members of the Delaware State Police, 24 employees of individual school districts and 17 workers in the Department of Health and Social Services were paid $150,000 or more last year.
The number of big pay earners marks an increase from 2015, when 158 people were paid at least $150,000.
About 1,600 state workers broke six figures last year, while many earned $50,000 or less.
Of the tens of thousands of people who received state salaries in 2016, no one was paid more than John Evans. The director of the Division of Forensic Science, Mr. Evans was paid $263,005.26 last calendar year.
A former member of the Delaware State Police’s executive staff, he retired from the state police Sept. 30 to take the forensics post. Mr. Evans made about $143,000 in combined salary from his positions with the state police and the Division of Forensic Science and also received just under $120,000 in a retirement payout.
Second on the list is Dr. Brainard, who was paid $245,510.51. He has been the head of DelTech since August 2014, and his 2016 pay included an 8 percent bonus — the maximum allowed by his contract — granted by the college’s board of trustees in October.
Right behind him is Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins, who was paid a salary of $240,190.89 in 2016, his second complete year on the job. Ranking fourth is 2015’s top earner, Dr. Holodick from the Brandywine School District. His salary of $239,325.31 marks a decrease of about $7,000 from the year before.
Rounding out the top five with earnings of $232,937.05 is Richard Margolis, the medical director for the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services within the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families.
Though all pay is included in the data, not all earnings recorded as coming from overtime or other sources are state-funded. Police officers, for example, can volunteer to provide traffic control at a sporting event or construction site, with pay generally coming from private companies or organizations.
School superintendents also can negotiate additional pay or incentives with their district, such as use of a car.
According to the Delaware Department of Labor, the average employee in the state government was paid $14,603 from July to September, the most recent period for which payroll data was available.
Over a full year, that sum projects to $58,412.
For comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2015 the average state government worker nationwide was paid $56,450 and the average Delawarean made $50,300.
The highest-paid state elected official in Delaware last year was then Gov. Markell, who received $171,000.09.
Although the Council of State Governments says he had a higher salary than all but eight governors, Gov. Markell ranks just 102nd among top Delaware government earners.
Nearly one-third of those who made $150,000 last year are judges.
Chief Justice Leo Strine, whose salary of $201,711.26 is sixth nationally among state chief justices, sits 15th on the 2016 Delaware list. He is followed by the other four justices on the Supreme Court, as well as the members of the Court of Chancery, Superior Court and Family Court.
The top-paid lawmaker was House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, whose base legislative pay of $44,685.32 was augmented by a stipend of $19,892.21 awarded to the highest-ranking legislator in each chamber. An expense account of $7,334.08, which every lawmaker gets, brought his total earnings to $71,912.31.
Although judges, cabinet secretaries and most elected politicians make far more money than the average Delawarean, a controversial proposal put forth by the Compensation Commission in January would have given raises to those state employees.
The commission, which is charged with meeting every four years to keep pay competitive, called for a 2 percent hike for elected officials. Under its plan, judges would have been paid about $20,000 more, and eight cabinet heads would have received pay bumps.
“While no member of the 2017 Commission argued that government salaries should parallel those in the private sector, the 2017 Commission concluded that reasonable compensation, set by an impartial body such as the commission, would play an important role in attracting and retaining top talent,” the panel wrote.
The recommendations were roundly criticized by members of the public and swiftly shot down by the General Assembly.
Seventy-six state employees made at least $50,000 in overtime pay alone last year, with six hitting $100,000 in OT earnings. Nearly all of those 76 came from the state police, Department of Correction or Department of Health and Social Services.
No one collected more overtime dollars than Ekeoma Wogu, a nursing supervisor at the Delaware Psychiatric Center. Ms. Wogu more than doubled her salary just in overtime, pulling in $136,241.13 for extra work.
Fourth in overtime pay was Anthony Agbola, a registered nurse at the center. Mr. Agbola was paid $104,937.00 in overtime.
“Overtime issues at Delaware Psychiatric Center are driven by a high number of job vacancies and we are working to further recruitment efforts to reduce those vacancies,” DHSS spokeswoman Jill Fredel said in an email. “Those vacancies are challenging to fill because the state’s salaries are not competitive with comparable positions in the private or nonprofit health care sector. Overtime is also driven at DPC because of regulatory requirements that we have a certain number of people in specific duties on each shift.
“As far as overtime, DPC offers overtime shifts on a rotational basis. Some people may turn down shifts when it comes to them on the rotation, and others may be more likely to accept the shifts when the rotation comes to them.”
Thirty-four state troopers were paid at least $50,000 for overtime last year.
They include patrol troopers Brian Mulvena and Joseph Parker, who made $111,623.68 and $104,525.63 in overtime, respectively. Criminal investigation trooper Robert Jones also topped six figures, getting $100,480.94 in overtime pay.
Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said in an email most of the overtime pay collected by troopers is billed to vendors.
“During their assignments troopers may conduct traffic escorts, direct traffic and provide security at sporting events at schools and businesses. Overtime may also include criminal and traffic investigations, staffing and special and critical incidents,” he wrote.
“Troopers are limited to a set number of hours weekly for off-duty jobs and work on a volunteer basis within divisional policy. All outside work is closely monitored by the state police leadership to ensure that well-rested troopers are on the road and are fit for duty.”
Twenty-seven correctional workers broke $50,000 in overtime pay, with each of them making more from overtime than base salary.
Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, was not surprised by that number. Mr. Klopp has said for years his members are overworked, in some cases being forced to take overtime shifts due to staffing shortages.
The union’s complaints have been well-publicized since an inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center Feb. 1 resulted in one officer being killed.
The department spent about $20 million on overtime pay in the fiscal year ended July 1, 2015, according to a report on spending developed by a state committee. The same report said officers worked more than 14,000 hours of overtime per week.
Across all state agencies, about $57.8 million was spent for overtime last year, although some of that money came from outside groups or companies rather than taxpayer dollars.
State’s top paid employees
One hundred seventy-one state employees made at least $150,000 in 2016. What follows is a list of the 10 highest-paid state of Delaware employees in calendar year 2016. Seven of the individuals on the list ranked in the top 10 in 2015.
1 — Division of Forensic Science Director John Evans, $263,005.26
2 — Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard, $245,510.51
3 — Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins, $240,190.89
4 — Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick, $239,325.31
5 — Prevention and Behavioral Health Services Medical Director Richard Margolis, $232,937.05
6 — Delaware State Police patrol trooper Brian Mulvena, $228,105.94
7 — Correction Department Medical Director Vincent Carr, $220,230.33
8 — Health and Social Services Department Medical Director Gerard Gallucci, $216,088.65
9 — Delaware Psychiatric Center nursing supervisor Ekeoma Wogu, $213,331.80
10 — Delaware State Police patrol trooper Joseph Parker, $211,348.37
— Compiled from state records
Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at firstname.lastname@example.org