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EXCLUSIVE: Speaker Fox Blasts Projo on Pay Raise Stories

Friday, April 08, 2011

 

Speaker Gordon Fox defends pay raises for House staff and accuses the Providence Journal of misleading readers in an e-mail obtained by GoLocalProv.

The e-mail was sent out to all state reps late Friday afternoon.

“We have tried our best to tell our story to the Journal, but the reporter has not painted a clear and accurate picture of the pay adjustments that were made over the course of the past year. Let me share with you the real story,” Fox writes. “By including all increases in one large list, regardless of reason, the Journal performed a major disservice to the public. There are many hard-working employees who were unfairly characterized in a need to sensationalize a reporter’s story. I will continue to demand excellence and professionalism from all our employees.”

Fox disputes that the pay increases reported by the Journal were all due to raises. In some cases, he said salaries were increased because employees had assumed a new job or moved from part-time to full-time positions. About half of those listed actually received longevity increases rather than raises, according to Fox.

“We provided a complete list to the Journal of all the reasons for the increased pay of every individual, including those due longevity, but the newspaper decided not to include this information in its listings,” Fox said. “Allowing the public to see that so many increases were for longevity would have resulted in a much more accurate picture.”

In fact, as part of a reorganization of House staff, Fox says that there has been an overall payroll reduction of $505,805. “These moves resulted in real savings by combining positions, but the Journal reporter chose not to include those facts, instead focusing on the small increases given to those employees for fulfilling new duties,” Fox said.

Update: Thomas Heslin, Executive Editor of the Providence Journal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening. The reporters who had covered the pay raise story also were unavailable for comment.

FULL TEXT OF THE E-MAIL

April 8, 2011

Dear Colleague:

After the barrage of articles written by the Providence Journal in the last several weeks, I thought it appropriate to share my perspective with all of you on General Assembly personnel matters.

In my nineteen years as a State Representative, there has never been a comprehensive undertaking to reorganize and professionalize our staff. This will be an ongoing approach in my administration. This involves changing job titles, combining duties, shifting office space, reviewing contracts, evaluating personnel, and adjusting salaries as necessary. All this was done, and will continue, in order to run a more efficient, transparent and effective operation.

We have tried our best to tell our story to the Journal, but the reporter has not painted a clear and accurate picture of the pay adjustments that were made over the course of the past year. Let me share with you the real story

By including all increases in one large list, regardless of reason, the Journal performed a major disservice to the public. There are many hard-working employees who were unfairly characterized in a need to sensationalize a reporter’s story. I will continue to demand excellence and professionalism from all our employees.

In several instances, what the reporter included in the list called “raises” were actually employees who assumed completely new jobs. In other cases, the employees were moved from part-time jobs to full-time positions to replace former full-time employees, resulting in taxpayer savings.

Also, in approximately half the cases, the employees were included on this list because they obtained longevity increases between March 2010 and March 2011. The JCLS follows the standards practiced for all employees throughout state government when they reach these longevity milestones. This is not a “raise” that is granted by any action of the General Assembly, but simply statewide policy. We follow all the state employees’ standards, some of which resulted in reduced pay for employees, such as furlough days and increased co-share of health benefits during this same time period. According to a fiscal analysis, the furlough days for Fiscal Year 2010 resulted in an equivalent of a 3 percent salary reduction for state employees, while the furlough days in Fiscal Year 2011 were an equivalent of a 1.5 percent reduction.

We provided a complete list to the Journal of all the reasons for the increased pay of every individual, including those due longevity, but the newspaper decided not to include this information in its listings. Allowing the public to see that so many increases were for longevity would have resulted in a much more accurate picture.

The Journal reporter was also informed, but failed to mention, the unique organizational structure of the House and Senate fiscal offices and the Auditor General’s office where employees move to different pay steps based on job performance evaluations by their supervisors, years of service, or various educational milestones achieved. I am proud that every single member of our House fiscal staff has a minimum of a master’s degree. Simply including these step increases into the “raise” category without any explanation to the Journal readers is an unfair portrayal and only minimizes the highly skilled and educated level of employees in those offices who are professionally evaluated on an annual basis.

The background of the recent reorganization was also greatly detailed to the reporter but was not presented fairly. After gratefully receiving the overwhelming support of the Democratic Caucus for the position of Speaker for my first full two-year term in November 2010, I set out to reorganize the House and JCLS staff in order to increase efficiency and productivity.

From late 2010 until present, just the personnel portion of our reorganization effort equates to an overall payroll reduction of $505,805. It was painstakingly explained to the Journal reporter that several of the small raises were a result of current employees being assigned new duties by replacing former employees. We detailed every instance where current workers are continuing in their own positions and performing the new duties of individuals no longer employed here. These moves resulted in real savings by combining positions, but the Journal reporter chose not to include those facts, instead focusing on the small increases given to those employees for fulfilling new duties.

By way of only one example, a secretary making $38,286 in 2010 was given the dual responsibility of serving as a clerk of one of the major House committees in 2011. For taking on both roles, her salary was increased by $6,873 to $45,159. However, she replaced an individual who previously performed that job at a salary of $62,862, for a savings of $55,989. Rather than reporting this result as a savings, the Journal publicized that this person received a raise.

Part of this reorganization effort included my evaluation of our salary structure. In the case of the House chief of staff, which has been highly publicized, I equalized his base pay with that of the Senate’s chief of staff.

I assure you that this reorganization effort is on-going. After we adjourn our legislative duties for the year, I will continue this employee reorganization by taking a close look at every department and every employee to make certain we have an even more efficient, productive and professional operation moving forward. In the off-session, I will also closely review all of the increases that have been granted since the start of the reorganization to ensure that the duties and qualifications match those increases.

It is a fact that the General Assembly’s overall budget has increased, but there are many reasons for this that are beyond our control. As some examples, there is the escalating cost of health care benefits and the three percent raises and longevity increases that workers throughout state government have been granted. Also, once every ten years, we must set aside funding -- in this case $1.5 million has been budgeted -- for the federally mandated redistricting process.

We are doing our best, however, to reduce budget expenses whenever possible. In addition to the $505,805 saved as part of our reorganization, there have been several other savings that have been achieved. At a JCLS meeting in March, the members awarded a redistricting contract at a saving of $145,000 after the original bid was renegotiated. The Journal was provided this information but did not report it.

The JCLS also reached agreement on a new contract for copiers and printers at a saving of $244,644, and the new sound system in the House chamber was installed after a first bid was rejected and new contract was obtained, resulting in a saving of $107,672.

These cost-cutting measures will continue as we strive to increase transparency and efficiency. It is indeed unfortunate that a complete picture is not being written. To characterize this institution as simply part-time is a mischaracterization of your Constitutional duties and obligations. But we understand that serving in the Legislature makes us a target in order to sell more newspapers or generate more responses on the newspaper website.

We also understand that political opponents, both inside and outside of the chamber, will take this opportunity to criticize those in Leadership positions. But by taking the time to provide you with the facts, all members will now have a more complete picture of the on-going reorganization process.

I appreciate your understanding and welcome your input. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Speaker Fox

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