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Minnesota's highest-paid public employees revealed

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

MOORHEAD — Major college athletics breeds big-time salaries in Minnesota, where three of the top 20 highest-paid public employees were University of Minnesota coaches during the past fiscal year.

In fact, the U of M accounted for 18 spots on the list, based on data requested by The Forum from the university and Minnesota Management and Budget.

Minnesota officials didn’t respond as quickly as their North Dakota counterparts to public records requests made by The Forum two weeks ago, in light of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education’s recent buyout of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s contract, estimated to cost more than $925,000.

The records that eventually were provided show differences and similarities between the states’ highest-paid public employees.

Unlike in North Dakota, where a UND medical school faculty member’s total pay for the year ending May 31 beat out the university’s high-profile hockey coach to top the list, Minnesota’s lead spot was firmly held by a coach: Former Golden Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith earned about $1.89 million in fiscal year 2012, which ran from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, the most recent complete data available.

Smith, who was fired in March after the Gophers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament, was followed on the list by Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill with total pay of about $1.26 million.

Women’s basketball coach Pamela Borton held the sixth spot with total pay of $470,919, while former athletics director Joel Maturi received $396,900 during Fiscal Year 2012, his final year in that post.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler claimed the third spot on the list, with total pay of $588,885. The total pay included overtime and other pay.

Lori Lamb, the U of M’s human resources director, said the university sets salaries based on external market data and external and internal equity issues.

“What is the market for the position? What does it take to bring somebody here?” she said.

For athletics — which she described as “a different world” when it comes to salaries — that usually means looking at what other coaches are earning in the Big Ten Conference. Smith’s pay put him about in the middle of his fellow Big Ten head coaches.

For other positions — say, an information technology staffer — the competing market may be more local in nature, Lamb said. There also are internal equity issues, such as the employee’s certifications, licenses and skills, the size of the department’s budget and so on, she said.

“It’s a very complicated view, if you will,” she said.

The only non-U of M employees to make the top 20 list were James McCormick, who was earning $429,172 when he retired after 10 years as chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and Dr. Robert B. Jones, a state Department of Human Services psychiatrist whose earnings of $424,567 made him the highest-paid employee in the state government’s executive branch excluding MnSCU. Jones was fired in February after investigators found he billed the state for services he didn’t perform, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Jones denied any wrongdoing, the newspaper reported.

The average state employee’s salary increase in Minnesota for fiscal year 2013, not including higher education employees, was about 3.5 percent, although that estimate carries a lot of caveats and assumptions because of the large number of variables in salary changes, said John Pollard, legislative and communications director for Minnesota Management and Budget.

Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski ranked sixth among MnSCU wage earners in fiscal year 2012, but her $252,067 in total pay wasn’t enough to crack the top 20 among all public state employees.

In North Dakota, nine of the top 20 highest-paid public employees were doctors working as faculty members at UND’s medical school, including the state’s highest-paid public employee, Dr. Robert Sticca, who earned $758,128 in gross compensation in the year ending May 31. Doctors in key positions at the U of M landed in five spots on the Minnesota list for fiscal year 2012, the highest-paid being Dr. Bruce Blazar, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, who earned $575,630.

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