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The Journal Gazette

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Sunday, July 30, 2017 1:00 am

Governor pays big for talent

Boosts salaries for key administration posts

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – In the first six months of his tenure, Gov. Eric Holcomb created several new high-level positions in his administration and raised some key salaries.

He also has seen his share of unusual turnover – losing three top staffers to federal jobs.

Overall, Holcomb's administration is running leaner, press secretary Stephanie Wilson said. And, she said, you need to pay good people well.

“The governor set the bar high. He wanted the best people who could come in and hit the ground running, and he got it,” she said. “(Pay) is part of getting good people, period.”

At the end of Mike Pence's tenure, he had 16 full-time staffers paid from the governor's office budget, making $1.27 million in total. Right now, Holcomb has 17 full-time staffers paid from governor's office funds making $1.5 million.

In both administrations, other agencies also pay for additional employees who work primarily in the governor's office.

Many of the salaries of those running state agencies under Holcomb remained at or near those of the previous administration. This was especially true for holdovers who remained in the same position they held under Pence. But a handful jumped notably:

• Brandye Hendrickson made $144,457 when she led the Indiana Department of Transportation, but Joe McGuinness' salary was set at $165,000 when he was tapped to take over that post.

• Jennifer Walthall is making $185,000 as head of the Family and Social Services Administration compared with $173,000 for former director John Wernert.

• Rob Carter's salary of $148,500 is 9 percent more than the $136,500 paid to former Indiana Department of Correction chief Bruce Lemmon.

Wilson talked only generally about salaries and would not comment specifically on individual cases of higher pay.

Holcomb also has created several new positions.

The first was the executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement appointed by Holcomb in January.

Jim McClelland is the so-called drug czar and reports directly to Holcomb. He is tasked with creating a strategy to combat Indiana's drug addiction problem.

But no salary information was listed for him on the state transparency portal. That's because he is a state contractor instead of a state employee. As a consultant, he is free to take on other clients, set his own hours, and decide whether he works from home or the Statehouse.

McClelland's contract is for $120,000 over one year.

Also last week, Holcomb created a new Cabinet position of secretary of career connections and talent and announced that Blair Milo, mayor of LaPorte, will fill it. She will interact with several agencies to help prepare Indiana's workforce for the future. Her pay is $171,500.

That salary makes her the 32nd highest-paid state employee, including all three branches of government.

In the governor's office, Wilson said, there are 33 employees, compared with more than 40 under Pence. Having fewer employees leaves leeway for salaries.

For instance, Holcomb's two deputy chiefs of staff and his chief counsel make more than Pence's employees who had the same titles.

The overall budget for the governor's office this year is about $2.1 million, just slightly lower than last year's appropriation for the governor's office.

That doesn't include the new allocation of $5 million annually for McClelland's efforts.

Some employees in the governor's office also continue to be paid for by other state agencies. For instance, one staffer who handles social media and other responsibilities for the governor is paid by the Indiana Office of Technology.

Holcomb is already replacing key staffers. That's because three of his agency heads have been named by President Donald Trump for positions in the federal government.

That includes Brandye Hendrickson, who is leaving her post as state personnel director to become deputy administrator for the Federal Highway Administration; Dr. Jerome Adams, who is up for confirmation as surgeon general after several years as Indiana's state health commissioner; and Ted McKinney, who is leaving the Indiana State Department of Agriculture for a new undersecretary position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I'm happy for them. They're serving their nation,” Holcomb said of the early departures. “I don't look at it as a loss. I look at it as a gain. It's critically important that we have good partners in Washington, D.C.”

He added that “we'll leave the light on” should they want to return and said the agencies have tremendous staffers to carry on with work during transitions.