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.