The I-Team gathered pay data from 19 area cities, counties and townships to see what jobs paid the most and whether payroll costs had declined since the Great Recession.
We found some surprises.
- The individual who took in the most money in 2014 was a Huber Heights fire battalion chief who received the final installment of a lawsuit over how he was fired in 2008. The highest paid city employee was the city manager of Kettering.
The city of Dayton pays into an executive payout fund to give parting bonuses to top city administrators when they leave. Dayton spokesman Tom Biedenharn received $113,339 from the executive payout program when he retired in January 2014.
Some local government employees have been able to nearly double their pay with overtime. A Kettering police officer received $51,062 in overtime pay last year.
Local governments across Ohio have shed 37,500 jobs since 2008, but public payroll costs are essentially the same.
Some area governments were reluctant to share their full payroll data. Others lacked the ability.
“The citizens of Ohio have a right to know how money is being used to pay government salaries, as well as how it’s used in the everyday operation of state and local government,” said Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican. Mandel has pushed for local governments to be required to make their payrolls more accessible.
PAYROLL PROJECT TIDBITS:
- Large payouts go to Dayton city execs
- Husband, wife paid $252K by Greene County
- Huber pays $650K to improperly fired firefighter
Read the full story here:
Nearly 300 local government employees took home six-figure pay in 2014, including Dayton city executives given parting bonuses, the husband and wife administrators of a Greene County agency, and cops and firefighters who spiked their pay with overtime.
Topping the list was a fire battalion chief who was paid $210,000 as part of a legal settlement after he sued Huber Heights for improperly firing him in 2008.
These are some of the findings of an I-Team analysis of the payrolls of 19 Dayton-area counties, cities and townships.
Local governments across Ohio have jettisoned more than 37,000 jobs since 2008, according to U.S. Census data. But as staffing levels across the state eroded amid the Great Recession — from a high of 562,132 positions eight years ago — public payroll costs actually increased before dipping back to the pre-recession level of $1.78 billion in March 2013, the most recent date for which numbers are available.
Payroll for local governments is padded by overtime handouts that can double some employees’ pay. Payout practices uncommon in the private sector also led to bigger checks for public employees, the I-Team found in compiling the payroll of area governments for a searchable online database.
Montgomery County 911 dispatcher Heather Bell, for example, pulled an average of 27 overtime hours per week in 2014 to nearly double her pay to $98,470.
Her overtime total was eclipsed in the I-Team survey only by Kettering police officer Bruce Abrams, who made $51,062 in overtime last year in addition to his $85,902 salary.
As for unusual payout practices, the city of Dayton doled out $1.7 million in “fringe benefit” pay in 2014. This included cashing out sick and vacation leave for departing employees, as well as $113,339 for the city’s retiring spokesman from an “executive payout” fund.
The city sets aside roughly $100,000 a year for parting bonuses for its top 16 executives.
The I-Team obtained payroll records of area counties, cities and townships using Ohio public records laws, though some area governments either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide a full accounting of how much they paid their employees in 2014.
The city of Dayton, for example, initially denied a request for overtime payments in 2014 until this newspaper involved its attorneys. Miami Township said its payroll system couldn’t produce the total amount paid to individual employees last year.
“It’s the hard-earned money of everyday Ohioans that pays the salary of government workers. The citizens of Ohio have a right to know how money is being used to pay government salaries, as well as how it’s used in the everyday operation of state and local government,” said Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has pushed for local governments to be required to make their payrolls more accessible.
Mandel’s salary is $109,565, per state law.
288 made six figures
The I-Team identified more than 5,000 employees from 20 area governments who made more than $50,000 in 2014. Those names and numbers are posted on this newspaper’s website.
Discounting the fired battalion chief, the highest paid area local government employee was Lee Lehman, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. He grossed $188,903 last year. County Administrator Joe Tuss followed at $184,375.
Top earners also included John and Jill LaRock, a husband and wife who work as superintendent and department director, respectively, of the Greene County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Together, they made more than $250,000 last year.
The 288 employees who made more than $100,000 include government administrators and agency directors, as well as a handful of police officers and a couple firefighters. Emergency services comprise more than half of the nearly 300 local government workers making between $90,000 and $100,000.
Census data shows that not all government jobs suffered equally from 2008 to 2013. Public welfare and health jobs, for example, took a double-digit percentage hit in payroll. Police services payroll was basically flat — despite minor inflation — and fire protection and education jobs eked up a few percentage points in total payroll costs in the face of nearly across-the-board staffing cuts.
Greg Lawson, policy director of the conservative Buckeye Institute, said union contracts are a major reason public government payroll hasn’t dropped on par with the number of employees.
Those contracts guarantee pay raises and require governments to lay off lower-paid employees first, he said: “You’re actually laying more people off to get the savings you need.”
And he said those contracts codify overtime and the ability to cash out vacation and sick leave — often at a value of tens of thousands of dollars — which is unheard of in the private sector.
“We don’t think that’s reasonable,” Lawson said.
“We want to be able to adequately and fairly compensate people for what they do in public service,” he said, arguing people should ask: “Is this what taxpayers can bear? And are the services truly worth the cost? And the first piece of information you need to know is, ‘What are the costs?’ And then people can have a more informed debate.”
For fairness, the I-Team pulled the tax records for the Buckeye Institute, which list only the salary of its top-paid employee: Executive Director Robert Alt made $200,000 in 2013.
Sally Meckling, spokesperson for the state employees’ union, said union employees have accepted numerous concessions, furloughs and pay freezes since the Great Recession.
“Salaries have been pretty much stagnant for the past six years,” said Meckling ($92,145, per tax documents).
She said sick and vacation leave payouts are part of the benefits package that makes up for public-sector workers making less than their private-sector counterparts, and employee cuts at the state level have forced mandatory overtime in sectors such as prisons and developmental disabilities centers.
“We think there are situations where they are using mandatory overtime when they could fill a position and save money,” she said.
Meckling said the biggest impediment to transparency in public employee pay is the increasing reliance on outsourcing government work to private sector consultants and contractors.
“We don’t know what they get paid, and there’s all kinds of sunshine laws that don’t apply to them,” she said.
State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, plans to sponsor legislation to put local government budget details online, including per-employee costs.
“The more tools we have to hold government accountable, the better,” he said. “It’s important to have it in an easily accessible, intuitive format so every citizen can sift through it and know what it means.”
Staff writers Nick Blizzard, Larry Budd, Steven Matthews, Ashley Medlar, Todd Reigelsperger, Drew Simon and Katherine Wright contributed to this report.
Large payouts go to Dayton city executives
When two top employees left the city of Dayton last year, they took with them $198,683 in unused sick leave, vacation time and funds set aside every year just to pay departing city executives.
Dayton spokesman Tom Biedenharn alone received $113,339 from the “executive payout” program when he retired last January after nearly 30 years with the city. Departing city law director John Danish walked away with $64,684, making his total pay of $168,029 the city’s highest in 2014.
The executive payout perk is offered only to the city’s top executives. Sixteen currently take part. For each one, the city puts aside an amount equal to 4.6 percent of his or her salary that can be cashed out upon separation.
The city spent $94,532 last year funding the program. The city has administered the program for decades, spending millions of dollars.
City council voted to suspend payments to the program in 2009 in response to questions from the Dayton Daily News.
“As we’ve been going through the 2010 budget process, I have been looking at ways that our executive team can continue to set the tone and direction for the rest of the organization,” then-city manager Tim Riordan said in a 2009 interview. “In reviewing the separation program in response to Dayton Daily News questions, I decided this is one way to accomplish that for 2010.”
But the suspension was only for a year. Then payments started up again.
City Deputy Director of Human Resources Brent McKenzie ($108,457) said executives who take part in the program limit themselves to 20 days of vacation time a year and don’t accrue overtime.
“In light of the fact they get less vacation, they have the incentive program for when they leave,” he said.
City executives can choose not to take part in the program, leaving them with the same leave as other city employees: a max of 30 days of vacation and banked sick leave up to 1,120 hours. When they leave, vacation is paid at the full rate and sick leave at half rate.
All told, the 167 employees who left the city in 2014 received $1.3 million in “fringe benefits” payouts.
Riordan left the city in January after earning $163,478 last year. He chose not to take part in the executive savings plan, though he had a contract that required the city to pay the equivalent of 5 percent of his pay into a deferred compensation program.
The contract with new city manager Warren Price says the same (and puts his salary at $160,000), though he also gets $10,000 in moving expenses to relocate from Stark County and $3,000 a month in living expenses for up to nine months.
Riordan did, however, receive $3,950 from another plan that provides a lump-sum payment of nearly $4,000 at the beginning of every year that can be put toward things such as deferred compensation, a car allowance or health costs.
That program also is only available to city executives.
City pays $650K to improperly fired firefighter
On paper, Huber Heights Fire Battalion Chief Johnny Holloway is the highest-paid public employee in the region, despite the fact he was fired in 2008.
Holloway was paid $210,000 last year as the final part of a three-year, $650,000 settlement after he sued to contest his termination.
Holloway was fired by then-city manager Eileen Bensen after he refused to voluntarily retire. He argued that he had stellar evaluations. But his personnel file was not spotless, and included a 10-day suspension in 2005 for having three on-duty firefighters help install a bay window at the home of a client of his private remodeling business.
The city signed the settlement agreement in 2012 after Holloway successfully sued to have his case heard by the city personnel appeals board.
Under the terms of the legal settlement, obtained by the I-Team, Holloway is considered retired as of 2008. He immediately began collecting retirement benefits and any reference to his termination has been removed from his personnel file.
And the city agreed to pay him $650,000 over three years, ending in 2014.
Top pay for employees of area’s largest suburb
The city of Kettering tops local municipal pay charts, with the region’s highest-paid city manager and top-compensated cop — though the latter quit amid scandal this year.
Kettering city manager Mark Schwieterman’s $179,909 gross pay in 2014 was the fourth highest salary among the two-dozen local governments surveyed by the I-Team, and the highest among the 17 responding cities and townships.
Kettering Police Lt. William Karolyi made $150,059 last year, including $41,408 in overtime. That put his pay right above Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Maj. David Hale ($144,764) and way above Kettering Police Chief James O’Dell ($114,721).
Karolyi resigned in January after admitting to having an affair with a police dispatcher who was a subordinate.
Kettering’s distinction among municipal compensation is not a point of pride for Ran Alban, who pushed several years ago for a charter amendment on the ballot to limit Kettering mayor and council terms and pay.
Alban compared Kettering to neighboring Beavercreek, which is slightly smaller. Beavercreek’s highest-paid police department employee, Officer David Darkow ($104,239), makes less than 22 Kettering police officers and administrators.
“How is such a massive differential possible in adjoining jurisdictions of similar size and demographics — except for enormous financial mismanagement in Kettering?” he said.
Husband, wife combine for $252K per year
Greene County Developmental Disabilities Director John LaRock and his wife Jill — who reports directly to him as a department director — together comprised $252,046 of the county’s 2014 payroll.
They rank first and fourth, respectively, on the county payroll. Four of the six Greene County employees who make more than $100,000 work for Developmental Disabilities.
Put another way: Greene County voters in 2013 approved a Developmental Disabilities levy that raises $11.6 million annually and costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $96 a year. That means about 4,924 of those figurative households are paying for nothing but the salaries of four directors.
John LaRock ($144,186) said his administrators are fairly compensated compared to other DD boards, and they are on par with the top salaries at Montgomery County Developmental Disabilities.
“Most of our administrators have made a career here. They’ve been here 27, 28 years,” he said.
That includes Jill ($107,860), who is the agency’s director of community services.
Jill was hired just three months after John, back in 1986. They met on the job and got married, John said.
At the time, he said, the county prosecutor looked at prior Ohio Ethics Commission decisions and said she could report to him as long the developmental disabilities board sets her salary, approves her contract and approves her leave time. On a day-to-day basis, however, he’s her boss.
“My understanding of what they said was if at all possible remove supervision when couples marry; when not possible, put whatever firewalls we can in place,” he said, noting that every county prosecutor has signed off their contracts since, without question.
“It’s not a local secret,” he said.
COUNTY DISPATCH CENTER
Hard-working dispatcher earns $48K in overtime
In the unfortunate even you’re forced to dial 911 in Montgomery County, there’s a good chance you’ll end up talking to dispatcher Heather Bell.
In order to earn $48,474 in overtime last year, Bell would have had to pick up more than 27 extra hours every week.
“I could see that, with Heather,” said chief deputy Rob Streck ($113,891).
Dispatch centers by their nature are awash in overtime, he said, because of high turnover, constant training requirements and an unpredictable work flow. And Bell is second highest in seniority, which by union contract determines how overtime is filled.
“She gets second shot at whatever overtime there is and Heather just rarely says no,” Streck said. “Our dispatchers are allowed to work 16 hours a day, then they’re required to have a break in between.”
Dispatchers get overtime at 40 hours, regardless of whether they worked those days or used vacation time, though they can’t use vacation and get OT the same day.
Bell was one of several local government employees who nearly doubled their pay in 2014 with overtime; the others worked for the county department of environmental services.
Of the jurisdictions able to provide overtime information broken out in their pay data — many could not — there were 87 employees who made more than $20,000 in OT. Most worked in police or fire.
Streck said Bell is a “superb employee” able to maintain her focus for all of those hours. If she wasn’t, he said, onsite supervisors would notice.
“If she wants to work seven days in a row, she can work seven days in a row,” he said. “She works a lot. She enjoys it.”
Career Technology Center teachers top state average
At $78,138 average pay per teacher, the Miami Valley Career Technology Center is sixth-highest in teacher pay in Ohio, and CTC teachers exceed the average Dayton City Schools teacher pay by $22,000.
MVCTC superintendent Nicholas Weldy and his two assistant superintendents rank third through fifth in the highest paid career tech employees in the state.
But with a base pay of $138,370 (gross pay is not included in teacher data from the Ohio Treasurer), Weldy is the 117th highest paid educator in Ohio.
Weldy said it’s misleading to compare his teachers with those at traditional public schools, as his student body includes a couple thousand middle and high school students and about 5,500 adults.
“We’re the largest single-site career center in Ohio,” he said. “I have a veterinarian that teaches my vet tech class. They have to take a pay cut to come teach school.”
Dayton teachers are the 212th highest paid out of more than 1,000 public and charter schools in Ohio.
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