The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control – you know them from their preachy, ubiquitous advertising as “BreatheND” – was an anti-tobacco state agency shut down by lawmakers earlier this year.
Shut down because, as I wrote back in February, the agency wasn’t so much a public health initiative but a jobs program for political activists who enjoyed some of the biggest salaries for their job classifications in state government.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when we learn that, on the way out the door, the folks at BreatheND gave themselves a massive golden parachute courtesy of the taxpayers:
BISMARCK—The North Dakota Senate’s chief budget writer said this week the $400,000 in severance paid to employees of the state’s now-defunct tobacco prevention agency “continued a pattern of abuse” that helped justify its elimination.
State lawmakers voted to repeal the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, known as BreatheND, earlier this year. Nine employees received severance for six months of pay and for the cost of six months of health insurance, totaling $400,739, said Pam Sharp, the Office of Management and Budget director.
Per the article, the severances weren’t illegal, but they certainly weren’t appropriate. No more so than the massive bonuses Governor Jack Dalrymple doled out to members of his staff during his last months in office which were also technically legal.
And apparently the severance packages BreatheND employees were a lot more generous than what other state employees who got bought out received:
The severances appeared to be more generous than the buyouts offered at other state agencies this year. Through that “voluntary separation incentive program,” employees had the choice of receiving a lump sum equal to three months’ salary and health insurance, remaining on the payroll for three months and receiving salary and benefits as if they were still working or receiving health insurance for a year after the buyout date.
Sharp said in June that 158 people were accepted for the program, which was expected to cost $3 million.
The other state employees got almost $19,000 in severance each. The BreatheND folks got more than $44,000 each.
“They gamed the system, paid themselves way too much,” Senator Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) is quoted as saying.
He’s right, though some of the apologists for the anti-tobacco zealots were just fine with it. Here’s Rep. Jon Nelson (R-Rugby):
“Being they were just eliminated from the budget … I suppose they took every advantage they could to reward their staff,” he said. “It is what it is.”
The operative words in that quote, I think, are “took” and “advantage.”
I contacted Senator Holmberg this morning (I believe he’ll be on my radio show about this issue tomorrow), and he provided me a chart showing the BreatheND employees and how much they were paid relative to other state employees in their classification.
Despite having much less service time, the BreatheND employees were all paid at or near the top of their categories.
Again, this wasn’t a public health initiative. This was a jobs program.