WellStar atop salary pyramid
by Kim Isaza
June 03, 2012 02:02 AM | 22249 views | 35 35 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WellStar CEO Reynold Jennings is believed to be the highest paid employee for a public body in Cobb. Jennings’s contract calls for annual base pay of $975,000. <br> MDJ file photo
WellStar CEO Reynold Jennings is believed to be the highest paid employee for a public body in Cobb. Jennings’s contract calls for annual base pay of $975,000.
MDJ file photo
MARIETTA — A review of the top salaries among governments in Cobb found Kennesaw State University and the county government leading the way, with some salaries of more than $200,000. But at the other end of the spectrum are Cobb’s two largest cities, Marietta and Smyrna, where only a few employees broke the $100,000 mark.

WellStar Health System — which operates public medical facilities via contract with the Hospital Authority of Cobb County — was also included in the review, though the nonprofit health system has several top-tier doctors among its ranks.

Through open records requests to multiple agencies, the Journal received W-2s for the 10 highest paid employees in 2011. Other agencies reviewed were: Cobb County Schools; Southern Polytechnic State University; Marietta Schools; and the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

The figures do not include any fringe benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions or deferred compensation.

“At first glance, I thought, ‘I’m in the wrong business,’” said software engineer J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the board of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party. “But even Ronald Reagan said the public sector needs to pay wages and benefits that are comparable to the private sector to attract good people, and I believe that. I don’t begrudge anyone being well-compensated.”

Economist Roger Tutterow also said pay for top-level government employees should be similar to salaries in corporate America.

“People argue that public-sector employees shouldn’t be paid as well as the private sector because they are public servants, but if you want your public entities to provide the most efficient services, that would require you to pay salaries in line with private sector,” Tutterow said.

Not surprisingly, doctors and executives of WellStar were far and away the most highly compensated.

Reynold Jennings became WellStar’s president and chief executive last August and thus was not among the year’s top 10. But Jennings’s contract calls for annual base pay of $975,000, and he is believed to be the highest-paid employee of a public body in Cobb.

WellStar reported net income of $1.67 billion in fiscal 2011. The system operates five hospitals, three of which are in Cobb, and owns at least 350 doctors’ practices.

The health system’s highest-paid employee in 2011 was Dr. William Benedict, a surgeon who specializes in brain and spinal tumors and earned $937,410, according to the health system. Next was Dr. Bill Mayfield, the health system’s chief surgical officer who also practices in WellStar’s Thoracic Surgery Associates. Mayfield earned $926,140, according to the system. At the bottom of WellStar’s overall top 10 was Dr. Ward Houck, a thoracic surgeon who earned $729,201, according to the health system.

But even excluding clinical staff, the health system’s top salaries were still very healthy.

Jim Budzinski, the system’s chief financial officer who was also interim CEO for part of 2011, was paid $894,121. Tenth on the list is executive vice president David Anderson, who is in charge of human resources and was paid $465,100.

WellStar uses the Hay Group, a global consulting firm, to help determine the ranges for its executives’ salaries.

CJ Bolster, a vice president at Hay, said that WellStar’s governing board of trustees has a compensation committee that reviews national data of about 200 comparable-sized hospital systems, and that WellStar strives to pay in the middle of those ranges to attract top executive talent.

“WellStar has moved from being a good performer to being an outstanding performer,” Bolster said. “In terms of quality, patient satisfaction and efficiency, the performance levels at WellStar over the last seven years have been remarkable, and that doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through a lot of hard work by outstanding performers they’ve attracted.”

Kennesaw State University, with more than 24,000 students and a fiscal 2011 budget of more than $300 million, had the highest salaries among traditional government entities in Cobb.

Dr. Ken Harmon, who in December was named KSU’s provost, earned $250,421 in 2011, while university president Dr. Dan Papp was second on the list at $244,294. The university is one of two in Cobb that are governed by the state’s board of regents, and the University System of Georgia provides additional allowances to its university presidents that are not paid by the school itself.

KSU’s salaries are determined through a process that looks at expertise and accomplishments of the candidate and competitive market conditions, as well as compliance with USG policy, according to Rodney Bossert, an assistant vice president in human resources.

Southern Poly is the other university in Cobb governed by the board of regents. With about 5,500 students, the school is relatively small among universities. Dr. Lisa Rossbacher has been at the helm since 1998, and in 2011 she was paid $169,934 in salary. That does not include her USG “subsistence allowance” of $13,400.

Rossbacher indicated she is less concerned about her own salary than those of her employees.

“What I would really like to see is a salary increase for all of SPSU’s faculty and staff, who are about to enter a fourth year without any state-funded raises,” she said. “Enrollment has increased by 20 percent in that time, (and) faculty and staff are serving more students with fewer resources. SPSU is having increasing difficulty in hiring new faculty and staff and retaining current employees because the salaries we can provide are less and less competitive with those in other states.”

In Cobb County government, county manager David Hankerson was paid $233,401 in 2011, according to his W-2.

The chief judge of Cobb Superior Court earns a total of $188,763 per year, and the other nine judges are paid a total of $178,963 per year.

However, most of those salaries comes from the state, with a county supplement accounting for about one-third of their pay. Their state pay, which is standard for all Superior Courts regardless of circuit, is $120,252. Cobb gives a supplement of $58,711 per year to each judge, and the chief judge receives an additional county supplement of $9,800 per year, said Tom Charron, the court’s administrator.

Judge Robert E. Flournoy III is currently the chief judge, a position that rotates every two years.

But in the highest earners paid by the county, Cobb’s state court judges follow Hankerson. Judge Toby Prodgers was paid $152,188.

Like seats on the Superior Court, State Court judges are elected. State Court judges’ salaries are set by the state legislature, though they are paid out of county funds.

There are 4,162 county employees, most of whom were furloughed for five days last year to help close a $32 million budget shortfall. County Chairman Tim Lee, who was paid $118,353 in 2011, was not among the county’s highest-paid employees.

The Cumberland Community Improvement District, meanwhile, is an anomaly in our review.

Executive director Malaika Rivers, who oversees three employees, was paid $172,204 in salary. She reports to the board of the Cumberland CID, and chairman Tad Leithead has insisted that her pay is “entirely appropriate.” Each of her three employees earned less than $55,000 in 2011.

“She’s done an exceptionally good job,” Leithead said of Rivers last summer, after it was learned she has received annual pay increases of 5 percent since she become the CID’s executive director in 2006. “The CID’s success has been extraordinary.”

In the Cobb School District, taxpayers spent more than $280,000 last year to pay the superintendent, though the job was split between two men who each held the job for six months. The district’s highest earner was former superintendent Fred Sanderson at $146,049, followed by current superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa at $140,585. Hinojosa began work on July 1, and his contract calls for an annual base salary of $237,000.

In 2011, Cobb’s superintendent oversaw a district of 106,509 students, 14,049 employees, and 114 schools.

Van Brink, of the tea party, said the way public education is delivered across the United States is being redefined.

“The classical model of the lecture method is archaic, and it’s being replaced with interactive computer learning. Students can learn at their own pace, and there are other benefits,” he said. “Do you need educators to stand there and regurgitate information? Do you need all these administrators? The education field will have to go through a major transformation.”

Indeed, the Cobb school district is sending up to 150 people to the Model Schools conference this month in Orlando to find cheaper ways to educate students.

“We have to change the way that we’re doing business,” Hinojosa previously told the Journal in justifying the trip.

Marietta Schools Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck earned $178,620 in 2011, according to district records. The district has about 8,000 students and 1,131 employees in 11 schools, and its fiscal 2011 budget was just over $74 million. In December, Lembeck was named Georgia’s superintendent of the year by the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

Jill Mutimer, who chairs Marietta’s school board, said Lembeck’s annual employment contract calls for a bonus of about $5,000 if performance goals are met.

“I think she does a great job, and she’s compensated accordingly,” Mutimer said. “We have a strong commitment to Dr. Lembeck, and I think she has a strong commitment to our school system.”

Both SPSU and Marietta schools have at least two of their top 10 earners making less than $100,000 per year. In the city governments of Marietta and Smyrna, such pay is more the rule than the exception.

Only three people among the city of Marietta’s 680 employees earn more than $100,000: City manager Bill Bruton, at $176,730; Fire Chief Jackie Gibbs, at $116,755; and Robert Lewis, general manager of Marietta Power, who is paid $108,741.

The 2010 Census counted 56,579 residents in the city of Marietta.

Although Gibbs, for example, has been with the city fire department since 1977 and rose through the ranks over the years, economist Tutterow said that in general, top-level government employees do not necessarily stay with a single employer longer than their private-sector peers.

“While the rank and file civil servants may stay with the same government, in higher ranks of public employees, you do see people moving around some and even shifting back and forth between the public and private sectors,” Tutterow said.

In Smyrna, only two people among the city’s top 10 made more than $100,000 in 2011: City administrator Eric Taylor, at $109,131; and police chief Stanley Hook, who was paid $101,056. By contrast, Marietta’s police chief Dan Flynn was paid $93,770. Smyrna had 51,271 residents, according to the 2010 census.

But, what about your salary?

According to the latest Census figures, Cobb’s median household income is $65,522.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Annonymous at WS
June 28, 2013
Yes-Wellstar has decided it is in their best interests to pay absolutely ridiculous salaries to their top execs,who do nothing but axe long-term faithful employees- to pay for their outrageously bloated salaries, and to pay for more system expansions, that are not really needed.

I guess they have decided that they should not be any different from the rest of the world!
another former WS EE
June 05, 2012
To NorthCobbResident

RE:. Someone who has been employed by the same agency for 25 years and has worked his or her way up through the ranks and is now a department head or assistant department head deserves to make more money than someone in a similar position in another department being employed there for only five or ten years........FYI Mr Reynolds has only been at WellStar for less than a year, yet he comes in with $900,000 salary. must be nice. The deathstar system is totally messed up. It has not been the same since Dr Lipson passed away. To another poster that states: WellStar Execs don't have much of an opportunity for a real life due to the number of early morning, night & weekend meetings they have to attend....

dont be fooled , those top paid excec dont spend that much time away from their private lives & they are compensated extra fro those mtgs,

by getting additonal time off & good food provided at the meetings, i know i used to order some of it. leaving that "toxic" place was the best thing i ever did. Re: anger classed..... if they were offered they would be FULL as every EE would be signing up

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - WellStar atop salary pyramid
February 06, 2013
Wellstar has almost completed their conversion to an "Accountable Care Organazation". It started in the 90s when they began buying out all of the primary care and Ob/Gyn practices. That started the process, " if you control the docs that make referrals you control the specialist. There have been growing pains, IE. when all of the Neurosurgeons quit covering the ER at Kennestone and the nastiness a few years ago with the Anesthiesologists and their contracts. Now Wellstar has its act together. They are now buying up the Specialist practices. A good example is Wellstar Neurosurgery . That's now an "ACO" practice not an pay for service or private practice. Wellstar is going "All In" they brought in fellowship trained Neurosurgeon Dr. William Benedict M.D and Dr. Scott Erwood M.D who is one of Atlanta's premiere Spinal neurosurgeons. Being in an ACO means they are employees and not private contractors. So they are paid a salary, not by the procedures or tests they perform. So you see them if you need surgery they get paid, if they see you and you don't need surgery, they. still get paid. So to entice these guys their paying them at the higher of the MGMA scale hence Dr. Benedict's $937,000 a year salary. I don't think that's outrageous, he's a brain surgeon and there aren't that many of them. They "Wellstar " has also signed a deal with Emory and they have Emory Cardiothoraic surgeons and a Neurosurgeon "Dr. Frank Lin M.D." that specialism is in. head trauma and spinal trauma. I don't see any problem in these dedicated professionals getting paid at the higher end of the pay scale.
I wish
June 05, 2012
I wish that the salaries published were accurate. Dr. Lembeck, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, is making almost double the amount reported ($178,620.00) for working the smallest school system. She heads a mere 7800 students in only one high school, one middle school, and a few elementary schools compared to Cobb County administrators who have over 118,000 students and many schools. If the number reported were accurate, it would show that she is really one of the highest paid Cobb County earners. Ms. Mutimer may praise the superintendent's accomplishments, but remember, the leader is making money by the blood, sweat, and tears of the teachers who have been given a pittance over the last five years with little show of appreciation. Someone needs to request an audit of Central Office salaries vs. teacher salaries for a real eye-opener. Unfortunately, teaching and nursing are pink-collar service positions with no respect and little compensation. The MDJ needs to get its facts correct. Please use open-records for administrator salaries and report the correct dollar amount including all monies, trips, benefits, used and unused vacation pay, and perks that make up the entire package. We all would wish to make that!
June 05, 2012
If this does not invite a union to organize nurses and other staff at the Deathstar, nothing will. One person asked if these people are worth thier salaries. Sure they are. Just ask them. It is not just physicians that drive the cost of healthcare...
In the light
June 04, 2012
Thank you to not only the nurses but everyone who works hard to save lives, comfort those sick and in pain, and teach.

The execs at WellStar may be almost abused, but the employees are most certainly. When will WellStar learn that world class care requires true leaders, not bullies?
June 04, 2012
Wellstar... what a scam and Hankerson is robbing the county tax payers as well.
nosy rosy
June 04, 2012
Other than satisfying people's natural nosiness about what other folks make, this article is pointless and only serves to invade the privacy of the the people whose salaries were disclosed. Thanks for at least not publishing their SSNs - geez!
MDJ, good job!
June 04, 2012
Thank-you MDJ, for letting the sun shine in.

We would love a weekly article like this one... investigating, in detail, just where & WHO is getting our taxes!

Thanks again, keep it coming.

An informed public is an educated public!
More Questions
June 04, 2012
Of course WellStar is "atop salary pyramid" when you compare it to small, local governments, university and school systems. Also, what is the point of this article, other than to expose people's salary? Where is the comparison of, say City of Marietta salaries with those of a comparable-sized city? Same with WellStar. The article states that it is ranked against 200 other health system of comparable size and the WellStar pays in the middle. Wouldn't it have been fair to WellStar -- and all of the other entities listed -- to print comparisons so we can see how that stack up? I actually feel sorry for the people who had their salaries printed.
Wellstar nurse
June 04, 2012
The top performance and standards at Wellstar is not because of your overpaid "special talent" its because of your underpaid dedicated nursing staff. You need to learn that . If it was not for the nurses wellstar would not be in business All of these post where you brag about how much Wellstar makes not once does it thank the hard workers at the bottom. Get a life all of you!
Angry Much?
June 04, 2012
Does WellStar offer anger management sessions?
Healthcare advocate
June 05, 2012
Someone SHOULD be angry that WellStar pays the workers so little. When I worked there, the social worker in our department (who had a Masters degree) was paid so little that she could afford a car or a house but not both. She had to live with her parents. The LPN depended on summer food programs to feed her children when school was out. The Habitat House WellStar helped to sponsor went to an employee! I also have a masters degree but my yearly salary at WellStar was the same as my BONUS at my previous company. At the time, we all thought it was worth it because we thought we were providing a non-profit benefit to the people of the five counties WellStar serves---only to find out that the uninsured and poor were increasingly unwelcome and increasingly hounded for high fees. I finally left to advocate for the uninsured. The five counties with WellStar hospitals should really look at the cost/benefit of not receiving taxes on such prime real estate. The money is going to these exorbitant executive salaries instead of the community.
angy also
September 06, 2014
that is the truth

Concerned Citizen
June 04, 2012
I'm surprised that no one pointed out that Danny Smith, Marietta City Schools employee, retired about 10 years ago, but he's still working full time and making over $100, 000 a year. That's double dipping, but I guess the public isn't aware of that. Also, in order to accurately compare the superintendents' salaries, you really need a copy of their contracts because the contracts contain everything. I found it quite interesting that Dr.Lembeck's salary is higher than the president of Southern Polytech's salary!!
MCS watcher
June 05, 2012
Mr. Smith's perks are quite well known and its more than salary --- his contribution to the system is minimal and his salary is ridiculously large for the amount of work he contributes as compared to others. His successor was hired years ago and has been doing a competent job by all accounts so why has he been kept? I agree with Concerned Citizen - the PSC and educator retirement should do some investigation on Mr. Smith's compensation package.
Former Employee
June 03, 2012
First, I will say that I know the WellStar Execs don't have much of an opportunity for a real life due to the number of early morning, night & weekend meetings they have to attend. It is non-stop and overwhelming, so they do deserve a certain amount of "over" compensation for what they do for the community and how their lives are put on hold and almost abused. I think that anytime articles like these are published, it just causes dissension among the ranks, because everyone works hard and we all wish we could be paid according to the scale of an executive. Let's face it, the executives can't do their job without the "little people" who don't make that kind of money and never will. But I feel better after reading this article, because now I know why they won't pay me $330 a week in unemployment after almost 10 years of service. They can't afford it.
June 03, 2012
Wow, these people must really do a lot to justify these huge salaries. I do have a couple of questions. The first is for the Wellstar guy. Does this mean they are making so much money we can park free instead of ponying up every time we have to come up there? And the second is just for anyone who knows. Mr Hankerson, making close to a quarter of a million, so what does he do to justify this kind of money? Thought Marietta/Cobb was hurting financially. Thanks, MDJ, very interesting article, indeed.
Voice of Reason
June 03, 2012
Most county part-time employees earn just a little over minimum wage, and the hours they are allowed to work each week are very restricted. For instance, at the Cobb County libraries, many of the part time employees cannot work more than 15 hours a week; again, for an hourly wage of just a bit more than minimum wage and no benefits at all. Also, Cobb County employees have had no raises in 4 years. Further, there's been a hiring freeze for a couple or more years now, which means that the employees left have to do their work and the work of those who have left. I think so many people feel that the rank and file government employees are paid excessive salaries and benefits. I wonder how many people would be willing to do these jobs for so little.
June 04, 2012
Well, I would be willing to work for this amount since I own my own company, but have not been able to draw a pay check at all for over 3 years since I have to pay my employees who I will need if the economy ever comes back - you know, the little green shoots we were told about last year. I have so much of an investment in my company that I am in a darn if you do darn if you don't position. I get no pay (benefits, bonuses or otherwise), but if I close up I lose everything. So let me earn minimum wage and I'll be happy. Some of these people ought to be thankful they at least have a job, even if it means overelapping which all of my employees have had to do in order to just keep a job at all.
Hang on a sec...
June 03, 2012
This article compares the salaries of a few government executives, judges, and medical doctors to the median household income of ALL of Cobb County. That is a worthless comparison. Of course these few people at the tops of their games are going to be compensated far more handsomely than the hourly employees they oversee.

A more worthwhile comparison, and one that I would welcome, would be a study of what the average local, county, and state worker salary is in Cobb County versus Cobb's median individual wage earner's income. Then we would know how the government workers are actually situated in comparison to the private sector. I think the info on what these people at the top make is good, but the comparison of their salaries to those of every other county resident is at best useless and at worst a journalistic attempt to "stir the puddin'."

And for the record, I am not a government executive, a judge, or a medical doctor.
June 03, 2012
Good point! And why is the MDJ using the Tea Party to define what competent educators, doctors and administrators should or should not make? The Tea Party, if given the chance, would tear down all the quality of living in Cobb.
And I would add..
June 03, 2012
I would also add the education and work experience typically required of the different positions. You can't compare the salary of a position that requires an MD degree and 15 years experience with an entry level filing position that requires only a high school diploma.
June 03, 2012
Also, not sure how a not-for-profit health system falls in the government category....even with the Hospital Authorities. It is not a public hospital like Grady.
wait a minute....
June 03, 2012
Let us also compare the salaries of a Publisher, an Executive Vice President, an Associate Editor, a Managing Editor and a News Editor while we are at it. Cat got your tongue?
More Information
June 03, 2012
Hang on a sec, you raise a valid point, but you also need to make sure you are comparing similar credentials. In other words, what education level or professional certifications are we comparing? Is is possible for the private sector worker to obtain a bonus? Does the government worker have job protection beyond what a private sector worker gets? I could go on and on, but you get the point. Rarely are these things as simple as they seem.
June 04, 2012
Nor does the comparison take into consideration the tenure with the employing agency or company. Someone who has been employed by the same agency for 25 years and has worked his or her way up through the ranks and is now a department head or assistant department head deserves to make more money than someone in a similar position in another department being employed there for only five or ten years.
mk...more disclosure
June 03, 2012
Great reporting, MDJ.

Let's keep it coming.

How much is Smyrnas city attorney and judge yearly salaries and income?

Would like to see an in depth look at the contractors hired by cities/counties salaries.

SPLOST funds need a thorough audit!!

The 43 million dollar 2005 Smyrna SPLOST check registry shows 17 million in checks to Croy Engineering.

How much is PROFIT?

Smyrna 2005 SPLOST hourly rates w/ a yearly 3% increase.

Program Director- $109.79

PRE-constuction director- $127.88

Environmental Manager- 112.56

Traffic Engineer-101.92

ROW Acquisition Manager- $121.16

ROW Appraiser- $102.12

Construction Manager- $95.20

Constuction Engineer-$72.27

Survey Manager- $99.62

Railroad Coordinator-$108.44

Environmental Manager--$112.56

Environmental Information Specialist-$70.00

...and this is just a small sampling from the long list of high salaries.

Pat H
June 03, 2012
I would like to know how the salaries of Georgia Power and Marietta Board of Power & Light compare to those at Cobb EMC.

We are still being overcharged in secrecy without open board meetings as were promised.
Cobb EMC Member
June 04, 2012
Can't wait to see the salaries and contracts of executives at Monopoly co-op Cobb EMC and Gas South- it will be shocking ?
JA Bolton
June 03, 2012
And just what are the much denigrated school teachers, those with our children's futures in their hands, paid? And how about day care workers when many studies tell us how important the first three years of a child's life is? The right wing likes to take family values, but their money belies their real beliefs.
June 03, 2012
And we wonder why the Hope Scholarship program is a mess and why health insurance premiums continue to rise at alarming rates. Are there any studies that look at capital outlays for new buildings that KSU and Wellstar have spent during the recession that has gripped our country over the last 5 years?
June 03, 2012
Why in the world would spend you spend so much time and effort gathering the reaction of the Tea Party to your report?

Their only interest is in tearing down community, including education. Had they been around before, Cobb would certainly not be known for quality health care, quality education and tremendous amenities.
Mike H
June 04, 2012
At a recent East Cobb Civic Association meeting, a member of the audience said that in England everyone has health care, the life expectancy is greater than America, and it costs half as much. It took me 5 minutes to confirm this on Google. This article shows where a lot of the money goes and don't forget overpriced insurance, and over priced drugs.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides