Democrats are questioning whether or not Governor Jack Dalrymple’s office followed the laws governing retention bonuses for state employees when five of the governor’s staff got nearly $100,000 in bonuses.
Here’s what Robert Haider, executive director of the North Dakota Democrat Party, posted on Twitter:
— Robert Haider (@RobertHaider) November 5, 2015
I spoke with Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Governor Dalrymple and the recipient of a $17,850 bonus, and he said the governor’s office has had a policy in place about retention bonuses since 2008. I wrote about it at Watchdog today:
In a copy of the governor’s office policies provided to Watchdog, a section related to retention bonuses states, “A retention bonus may be given as an incentive to retain an employee unless the employee is leaving to work for another state agency.”
I also asked Zent how the office went about determining if the employees who got the bonuses were in “hard-to-fill” positions. He pointed out that positions in question require significant experience in technical policy areas, as well as with the workings of both the state and federal government, and that it would be hard to recruit such candidates for a gubernatorial administration that will be out of office in about a year.
Asked how the governor determined the five staff members granted retention bonuses were determined to be “hard-to-fill” as required by the law, Zent said there was “plenty of justification.”
“These are positions which require highly qualified candidates with experience and knowledge about the works of both state and federal government,” he said. “These are not easy people to find.”
Zent also said that because Dalrymple has announced he is not running for re-election in 2016 it would be difficult to find qualified staff to fill those positions temporarily.
“You’ve heard the governor say that he has priorities he wants to complete before he leaves office,” Zent said. “He needs qualified staff on hand to complete those objectives.”
Meanwhile, the narrative from the left is all about class warfare. Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider is comparing the bonuses for Dalrymple’s staff to bonuses for cops and mental health counselors. “When legislators voted to attract and retain talented state employees, those funds were supposed to go to the law enforcement officers who keep us safe, the engineers who clean up and prevent spills that threaten our land and water, and those who provide critical services like mental health and addiction counseling in communities across the state,” he said in a press release.
Nick Archuleta, boss of the state teacher and public worker unions, echoed Schneider’s comments to Valley News Live. “What does that say to the highway patrolman who got a $250 bonus or to the auditor who got a $50 bonus, or whatever. It rather devalues their work in public employment and that’s not fair. And it should be changed,” Archuleta said.
This won’t be a very popular point of view with the class warriors and the populists, but let’s be honest. Archuleta and Schneider are not making apples-to-apples comparisons of public employees. It does actually take a lot of skill and experience to administer policy in the complicated environs of state and federal government. Dalrymple’s job is to advance the policy agenda he campaigned on. To do that, he needs effective personnel who have expertise not just in policy areas (one of the staffers receiving a bonus used to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and works on water topics for the governor) but in the area of the process as well.
Were these bonuses a little tone deaf? I think so, especially when there’s really no precedent for them. The Governor probably could have been a little more proactive in explaining why these bonuses were necessary to lawmakers and the public, though even then a couple of them strike me as excessive.
But to attack them on the grounds that the average bonuses for cops and other public employees aren’t as much is kind of moronic. Good fodder for talking points in inflame low information voters, sure, but hardly a cogent argument.