Commentary: Balancing the pay scale for top Delaware officials

Are the salaries of top officials at our Delaware Technical Community College too high, or are the salaries of the top officials in the executive, judicial and legislative branches and other elected officials too low?

It is a matter of pay equity for all top officials.

During this past legislative session, the general council for DelTech made the case that the college should be looked at as another agency as they made their plea for more capital dollars. I support that suggestion.

Bill Bowden

However, this highlights the problem with their president, Mark Brainard’s, salary of $266,540, the highest compensation for state employees, being so high in comparison to our Supreme Court leaders, other judges, cabinet secretaries and other top officials in leadership positions.

When you take a cursory look at his responsibilities, in comparison to some of the agency heads, the problem becomes even more clear.

For instance, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker (a physician) of the Department of Health and Social Services makes $163,088 a year. This is the state’s largest department of more than 4,100 employees in 11 divisions, including the Delaware Psychiatric Center, two long-term care facilities, the Stockley Center for developmentally disabled persons, and state service centers at 15 locations throughout Delaware.She administers a total budget exceeding $1.3 billion.

In comparison, Dr. (Attorney) Brainard makes $266,540 a year or 61% more than Secretary Walker at $164,088. He oversees 1,148 employees or 72% less than Secretary Walker. He administers a budget of $81.5 million or 94% less than Secretary Walker. His compensation includes $20,585 in undefined “other” earnings.

The previous DTCC president had “other earnings” that included a car (all expenses paid), a special life insurance policy, an expense account and special bonuses. We don’t know what makes up the “other income” for Brainard.

When considering this disparity, the only difference I can see is that Secretary Walker’s pay, along with all other top leaders in state government is established with the constraints of being a state government employee. The Delaware Compensation Commission recommends base salary increases for the top officials in the legislative, executive and judicial branches, along with other elected officials in Delaware.

DelTech is not part of that process. The salary and ongoing increases for the DelTech president are established by their private board of trustees, outside the process for all other state employees.

But there is more to consider about pay equity for top officials. DelTech has a general counsel who makes $154,183 a year. This is more than State Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, whose compensation is $149,893 yearly.

It makes one question why DelTech doesn’t use the legal services provided by the attorney general’s office?

All cabinet organizations in Delaware receive either part or full-time legal support from a deputy attorney general. These employees are compensated at significantly lower levels. In addition, DelTech has five vice presidents whose salaries are higher than 11 of the 13 cabinet secretaries leading our state agencies.

My concerns are not about the performance of Brainard or DelTech employees. I think they do a good job. It is about pay equity for all top state government leaders.

I believe these top officials should get equitable compensation, with some even getting in excess of $200,000. The top officials I am familiar with are smart, hard-working and dedicated public servants. We owe them a debt of gratitude, along with equitable compensation.

However, compensation levels for all state employees (including DelTech) need to align with the constraints of public service pay.

If these compensation decisions are left to the DTCC board to decide, we could end up at the same place we were when the previous President Lonnie George retired from that position. He got a state pension close to $300,000 based on his base salary of $370,939 and total compensation equaling $469,885.

Language in the current code, that governs DelTech, gives them unbridled authority that bypasses the oversight of our state’s human resources processes for determining appropriate compensation levels, our budget office oversight, and the responsibilities of the Delaware Compensation Commission, and ultimately the legislature.

DelTech’s board feels their higher levels of compensation are warranted because they do a good job. But so do most, if not all, the other top state officials. This is unfair to other top state officials, up to and including the chief justice of our Supreme Court. Compensation for DelTech employees should align with everyone else in our state government. DelTech is a state agency, being run by state employees, who are paid by the state.

The legislature should regulate this process before it gets further out of control and we end up with another embarrassing situation.

It is time for our legislative leaders to consider additional administrative controls for DelTech and its board.

Bill Bowden, of Wilmington, is a retired Verizon Delaware executive, past president of the Delaware Quality Award and served for eight years as the executive director of Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information.

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