News Column

More Texas Prison Bosses Get Fat Raises

November 18, 2013

Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman

Nov. 18--Months after Texas prison guards learned their top boss got a nearly 40 percent pay raise while they got just 5 percent, new figures show other top prison officials have received hefty raises, as well.

Executive pay increases ranging from 8 percent to more than 23 percent were given in September to top leaders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to salary information obtained by the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act.

Prison employees complain those pay hikes are too generous. And the prison system is not alone in hiking executive salaries.

While lists of current raises for all agencies were not immediately available, criticism of executive pay hikes in state government has increased in the past three years. State leaders have insisted the hikes are necessary to retain top talent, but rank-and-file workers are increasingly critical that they are being left behind.

"We used to have a system where executive salaries are set based on a civil service system that compares them with comparable salaries in government," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the watchdog group Public Citizen of Texas. "That way, we're not getting hornswoggled into big executive raises based on the private sector that may not be comparable."

The executive pay issue has arisen at agencies that include the Texas Department of Transportation, Employees Retirement System, Department of Public Safety and Texas Juvenile Justice Department. At those agencies, executive directors and some members of upper management teams are making six-figure salaries well in excess of the governor's pay: $150,000 a year.

The prison-system raises ranged from a $66,000 increase for Dr. Lanette Linthicum, the medical director who went from $309,000 to $375,000; a $22,000 per-year increase for Carey Welebob, director of the Community Justice Assistance Division who went from $94,120 to $116,150; to a $16,600 increase for Deputy Executive Director Bryan Collier and Chief Financial Officer Jerry McGinty, who both went from $133,301 to $150,000.

Several other top officials received pay bumps of more than 12 percent, including Inspector General Bruce Toney, General Counsel Sharon Howell, Parole Director Stuart Jenkins, Facilities Director Frank Inmon and Chief of Staff Jeff Baldwin.

By contrast, the more than 23,000 correctional officers who make $37,000 or less got a 5 percent bump in pay.

In a statement, the agency defended the leaders' raises as justified because their peers at other large state agencies are highly paid.

"Understanding the importance of retaining and recruiting senior leaders, Mr. Livingston awarded salary increases to division directors," agency spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement. "These top-level leaders are tasked with operating one of the largest criminal justice agencies in the country. The increase will allow TDCJ to remain competitive and continue to attract talented professionals."

Brad Livingston, who the Legislature earlier this year awarded a 39 percent pay raise that increased his salary from $186,300 a year to $260,000, approved the raises for his leadership team. They will cost taxpayers an additional $268,700 a year.

News about Livingston's raise several months ago triggered howls of protest from correctional officers, who complained the agency had not pushed hard enough for larger raises for its rank-and-file employees. Agency officials countered that the Legislature had approved smaller raises than they had sought. Still, because there are so many guards, their 5 percent pay hike is costing taxpayers $105.2 million over two years.

Told of the executive raises, several corrections officers responded with expletives. None wanted to be quoted, citing a fear of job reprisals.

But Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional officers union affiliated with the American Association of State Federal and Municipal Employees, summed up their frustration: "This makes me want to puke."

"TDCJ is saying the kings get taken care of and the peasants get almost nothing," he said. "The raise for a top salaried correctional officer averages about $1,850 a year. They're on the front lines in understaffed units that are difficult, dangerous places to work where people are being required to work mandatory overtime to cover shifts. You tell me whether this sounds fair."

In recent months, more than 3,000 correctional officer positions have remained vacant -- leaving some lockups facing critical staff shortages, although top officials insist that all priority posts are covered and security is being maintained.

In recent years, executive-level raises for state officials have drawn repeated questions and complaints. Hefty raises for top leaders at DPS, ERS and TxDOT drew legislative inquiries two years ago, as did raises at the juvenile-justice agency after legislative leaders had mandated there be none.

In each case, agency officials defended the pay hikes as necessary to retain qualified leadership and to keep them from being hired away by the private sector.

Despite that, a 2012 study released by the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste reported that state workers made 6 percent more than their private-sector counterparts -- with Texas having the largest difference between public and private sector pay for comparable career fields.

That study contradicted others from business-related groups that found the opposite. And it was criticized by officials in Texas and other states, who insisted that executive raises cost much less overall than even a small hike in the pay of rank-and-file workers -- and pay big dividends in improving management efficiency and operations.

Correctional officers had initially asked for a 14-percent pay hike -- about what some top officials eventually got -- with a price tag of around $250 million, too much to be funded in the state budget that was already criticized by tea party lawmakers and activists as being too big.

"It's like putting a small bandage on a bullet hole," Lance Lowry, president of the union's Huntsville local, said when the 5 percent raise was approved. "They said there simply wasn't any more money."


Texas Prison System Pay Raises

Eighteen prison officials got pay raises in September, including these positions:

Position/New pay/Amount of raise/ Percent increase

Medical director/ $375,000 / $66,000/ 21%

Executive director / $260,000 / $73,300/ 39%

Director of community justice assistance / $116,150 / $22,000/ 23%

Deputy executive director / $150,000 / $16,600/ 12%

Chief financial officer / $150,000/ $16,600/ 12%

Parole director / $120,556 / $13,395/ 12%

Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice


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Original headline: Texas prison managers get double-digit pay raises, while rank and file got 5%

Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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