Big paydays continue for state employees

DOVER — That old adage about no one getting rich from working for the government? Not entirely true, it turns out.

About 1,700 state employees were paid more than $100,000 in 2017, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget.

That list includes the expected big names like Gov. John Carney, Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard and Chief Justice Leo Strine. But it also counts plenty of people who work behind the scenes, helping keep the state government running.

A total of 201 employees just about tripled the mean salary for those who work in the First State, pulling in $150,000 or more in taxpayer money. That’s a 12 percent increase from the year before, when 178 state government employees took home at least $150,000.

Mark Brainard Photo by .

Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard

First on the list of top earners is Mr. Brainard, who was second last year and fourth the year before. Named DelTech president in 2014, Mr. Brainard pulled in nearly $249,000 in 2017.

Although some University of Delaware and Delaware State University employees topped that — UD Provost Domenico Grasso, for instance, made about $641,000 in 2015, the most recent year for which that information is available — they are not counted as public-sector employees in state payroll data. Both institutions are considered public-private hybrids.

The wage information includes not just base salary but also overtime and other earnings, such as non-monetary compensation and accrued sick leave paid out when someone leaves the state.

While Mr. Brainard made the most, he did not have the highest base salary. That honor goes to Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins, who was paid slightly more than $243,000. Mr. Collins was hired in 2014, after the state created a new Division of Forensic Science in the wake of drug thefts in the now defunct Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Five people also cracked six figures in overtime alone, with a psychiatric nursing supervisor at the Delaware Psychiatric Center leading the way. Ekeoma Wogu has pulled in serious cash from extra work for years, and 2017 was no exception: Ms. Wogu made nearly $163,000 in overtime pay.

Her base salary is about $62,000.

Three of the five individuals who made at least $100,000 in overtime pay worked at the Delaware Psychiatric Center.

“Overtime issues at Delaware Psychiatric Center are driven by a variety of factors,” Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman Jill Fredel said in an email. “The facility does have a high staff vacancy rate — as high as 40 percent during the past year. In order to meet regulatory-required levels of staffing for the patients we serve that causes overtime usage among existing staff.

“A number of patients at DPC also require one-to-one staffing, which puts an additional demand on staffing levels. We are challenged in our recruitment efforts to reduce those vacancies because the state’s salaries are not competitive with comparable positions in the private or nonprofit health care sectors.”

While Ms. Wogu’s OT pay may seem absurdly high, Ms. Fredel said it is accurate, noting vacation time and sick leave count toward overtime as hours worked.

Four people, all Delaware State Police troopers, made at least $100,000 in other pay. John Campanella, who retired as director human resources for state police in 2017, led the way with approximately $121,000 in this category.

The state payroll system records about 56,000 entries for 2017, some of which are individuals who were paid multiple times by different agencies or school districts. Randy E. Fisher, for instance, shows up in three Delaware State Police units and in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

Because of that, it is extremely time-consuming to determine exactly how many people made six figures, leaving the count at slightly more than 1,700.

Even with that caveat, however, the data offers a useful look at what state workers are earning, particularly at the top end.

Top earners

Of the 201 people who made $150,000 or more, 70 worked for the Delaware State Police, 55 were judges, 39 were employed by a school district and 19 were with DHSS.

The highest earner after Mr. Brainard is Brian Mulvena, a patrol trooper who raked in overtime pay en route to almost $246,000 total. He is closely followed by Ms. Wogu, who made more than $243,000. Also at approximately $243,000 is Mr. Collins, the medical examiner.

Fifth is Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick, paid almost $240,000. Right behind him is Mr. Campanella, who made approximately $239,000 split evenly between salary and “other” pay.

Education Secretary Susan Bunting

Richard Margolis, the medical director for the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services in the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families, made almost $236,000. Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, the former Indian River School District superintendent, was paid around $228,000, including a $62,000 payout when she left Indian River.

Rounding out the top 10 are two employees of DHSS’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Clarence Watson, the medical director and a forensic psychiatrist at the Delaware Psychiatric Center, made almost $218,000, while DPC psychiatrist Daniel Grimes was paid nearly $208,000.

Mr. Brainard, Master Cpl. Mulvena, Mr. Collins, Dr. Holodick and Dr. Margolis ranked in the top 10 in both 2015 and 2016 as well.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for all 441,000 Delaware workers in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, was just shy of $51,000.

According to the Delaware Department of Labor, the average state government employee made slightly less than $15,000 in the third quarter of 2017, the most recent period with available data. Over a full year, that projects to about $60,000.

Asked if Mr. Brainard was worth the sizable investment, a spokeswoman for DelTech pointed to a September study commissioned by the college. That analysis from a consulting firm reported the average community college president made $307,000.

Mr. Brainard’s predecessor, Orlando George, earned more than $400,000 in his final years at the helm of DelTech.

The highest-paid elected official in 2017 was Gov. John Carney, at just under $154,000. While the governor is paid $171,000 annually, Gov. Carney did not take office until the middle of January.

Gov. John Carney

Delaware’s chief executive is one of the 10 highest-paid in the country.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, led all lawmakers with almost $73,000.

In the current fiscal year, every lawmaker is paid $45,291 and also receives a $7,334 expense account. Those in leadership positions or on select committees earn extra pay as well.

Judges in Delaware are well-compensated: Members of the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court, Court of Chancery and Court of Common Pleas were all paid at least $177,000.

According to the BLS, Delaware is 11th in the country in average salary of judges and magistrates.

Non-salary earnings

The state spent about $63.5 million on overtime in 2017. Overtime allows individuals in certain professions to cash in, as long as they don’t mind longer and more hours. Police and correctional officers in particular see monetary benefits: 83 troopers or COs ranked among the top 100 overtime earners.

Correctional officer staffing has been an issue for years, with officers alleging the state intentionally keeps positions vacant and eats overtime costs rather than fill spots. The Department of Correction had 248 vacancies as of Friday.

COs and state troopers consistently rank among the top overtime earners, with the Department of Correction spending $22 million on overtime in 2017. Some correctional officers are “frozen,” meaning they are forced to work overtime after already working a full shift.

A spokesman for the Delaware State Police said overtime for troopers is often paid by outside sources.

“The majority of the state police overtime is billed to vendors,” Sgt. Richard Bratz wrote in an email. “Departmentally approved vendors may include; construction companies, retail businesses, schools and churches that contract troopers for special duty assignments during their off-duty hours.

“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.

“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.”

A few employees at the Delaware Psychiatric Center have also shown up repeatedly in lists of top overtime earners. Ms. Wogu, in particular, has used the shortages to her benefit: She received more overtime pay than any other state worker in each of the past three years.

In total, the state spent about $1.96 billion, or nearly 48 percent of its budget, on personnel last year.

Highest-earning state employees

What follows is a list of the 10 state employees who were paid the most in salary, overtime and other earnings in 2017. Also provided is the position from which they earned the most income and how much they made in total.

1 — Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard, $248,550.52
2 — Delaware State Police patrol trooper Brian Mulvena, $245,560.75
3 — Delaware Psychiatric Center psychiatric nursing supervisor Ekeoma Wogu, $243,478.46
4 — Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins, $243,092.46
5 — Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick, $239,851.27
6 — Delaware State Police Director of Human Resources John Campanella, $238,529.03
7 — Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services medical director Richard Margolis, $235,750.99
8 — Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, $227,571.92
9 — Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health medical director Clarence Watson, $217,672.30
10 — Delaware Psychiatric Center psychiatrist Daniel Grimes, $207,817.52

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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