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Friday, September 26, 2008

Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards and Rep. Brent Yonts Aim To Burst LRC Director's Pay Bubble.

Bill would kill 47% raise to LRC director
Defenders contend he's well worth it

By Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- House Speaker Jody Richards and Rep. Brent Yonts said yesterday they will file legislation to rescind the 47 percent pay raise given Wednesday to legislative staff director Bobby Sherman.

"This past year the General Assembly approved 1 percent raises for teachers and state workers because times are tight," Yonts, D-Greenville, said in a news release.

" … In just the last two days, there has been a tremendous outcry from citizens and legislators, all asking how we can seriously say we're trying to save money when we throw it around like this," he said.

The $62,160 raise increased Sherman's annual salary to $195,000.

The Legislative Research Commission, comprising all House and Senate leaders, approved the raise Wednesday in an 11-5 vote. Richards, D-Bowling Green, was among those voting no.

Amid growing criticism of the action among legislators and the public, Richards and Yonts released a statement saying they will prefile legislation to rescind the raise, retroactive to the date of its approval. It could not be considered until next year's session.

Richards said he had "nothing negative to say" about Sherman. But "this decision, which has received almost unanimous opposition across the state, should be reversed" as early as possible.

Sherman declined to comment.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, defended his vote to give Sherman the raise and called the news release from Richards and Yonts "ridiculous."

"This is a negotiated salary with a high-qualified individual, uniquely qualified in fact," Williams said. "And the vote was 11-5, not even close."

Williams said on Wednesday that Sherman was planning to retire without the raise. He said yesterday that the raise will actually save the state money because otherwise it would have to pay Sherman's retirement benefits of about $109,000 a year, plus the salary of at least $132,840 to a new director.

Sherman, 56, of Louisville, has been director of the LRC for nine years and a state employee for 27 years. In his current job, he oversees the work of a legislative staff of 400 employees that grows to about 600 when the General Assembly is in session.

Like other veteran state workers, Sherman faced a decision this year caused by a quirk in state law under which a generous retirement benefit for some will expire at the end of the year. Such employees face the choice of retiring this year with the benefit, or continuing working only to have their retirement pay reduced significantly.

Williams said the raise was a negotiated amount that will allow Sherman to afford to take the cut in retirement benefits by working into next year.

But Lee Jackson, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said the raise "shows total disrespect for the state employees who got a 1 percent raise (this year). We're advising our members to contact legislators to see what can be done to rescind it."

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he was outraged by what he called "a shameful, unjustifiable waste of taxpayer money which sends a terrible message to our hardworking state employees."

Graham said state workers getting 1 percent raises "are struggling with the high cost of gas, groceries, health care and other necessities."

He called on Sherman to refuse the raise or "consider resigning his position in order to allow fresh leadership which could restore employees' faith and morale."

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he too was outraged by the move. "It sends the wrong message in these tight budget times," he said.

But Williams said Central Kentucky legislators are "pandering" to state workers with such comments.

And he said Richards, who is in a race for re-election as speaker against Rep. Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, "appears desperate to make it look like he's an effective leader."

Stumbo said that if he had been in leadership he would have voted against the raise.

"The raise sends a bad message," he said. "And I don't believe anyone is indispensable."

Like Williams, others who voted for Sherman's raise stood their ground.

"To be director of LRC you need to be a legal expert," said Senate Democratic Leader Ed Worley of Richmond. "You need phenomenal institutional knowledge. You need to be a master referee. … Bobby has those qualities, and I voted as I did because I believe it was for the good of the institution."

House Majority Whip Rob Wilkey of Scottsville, the only House Democratic leader to vote for the raise, echoed Worley's comments. And he said Sherman has endured unfair criticism.

"In my talks with him, Bobby said he'd love to stay but was happy if he had to go," Wilkey said. "The final vote was the result of an effort by most of leadership to find a way to keep him."

Reporter Tom Loftus can be reached at (502) 875-5136.

Editor's comment: I do not know much about the LRC job description, but I suspect that millions of people will like up to do the job at the current salary, if the job became open!

Update: Speaker Jody Richards seeks meeting to reverse the pay hike.

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