December 9, 2009

Only High-Paid Executives Need Apply

Justin Katz

We can all appreciate the benefits, from an administrative point of view, of bringing in strong-willed people to help shock some of the Rhode-apathy and corruption out of state government, but we're barely three months past this announcement:

Less than a day after a Supreme Court justice blocked the first of 12 proposed government shutdown days, the state has imposed a complete hiring freeze, with no exceptions made for even the most critical jobs.

So how can Governor Carcieri justify this, from the Providence Business News:

The R.I. Economic Development Corporation's board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint Ioanna T. Morfessis, a consultant from Phoenix with a Ph.D. in economic-development policy, as the agency’s next executive director. ...

The board voted to give Morfessis a three-year contract that will pay her $250,000 a year plus benefits. The state also will cover her relocation costs and provide her with an automobile.

Morfessis' compensation would be more than double that of the EDC's last executive director, Saul Kaplan, who made just under $100,000 a year before he resigned in December 2008.

It's beginning to seem as if the only jobs in Rhode Island are for extremely high-paid government executives from out of state. Furthermore, as I suggested when Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was lured to the state with an outrageous compensation package, Rhode Island's executives appear to be suffering from a case of "employer's vanity" whereby the people who control hiring spend as much as they can as if salary and success are directly proportional.

To the contrary, we may be charging toward some unintended consequences: Strong-willed people — those with "big personalities," as Hasbro Chairman Alfred Verrecchia says of Morfessis — will often usurp what power they believe themselves to need to accomplish what they want to accomplish. With Rhode Island's leadership class demonstrably lacking in the spine and in the head, we may soon find ourselves being governed by an oligarchy of unelected directors. They will, no doubt, be competent and admirably focused, but not only must we remember that power corrupts, we shouldn't forget that our current stars will eventually hand all of the authority that they've grabbed over to somebody else.

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Justin I really didn't expect this from you, the typical RI pavlovian whine when out of staters are paid "real world wage" to toil in and fix Dysfunction-Corruption Island.
This typical response is so tedious and tiresome and this mindset is why this backwater has remained a backwater for decades.
Seems to me the out of staters are free from that "putrid Rhode Island Gene" Matt Allen so accurately identifies and they bring fresh and non-incestuous resumes and perspectives to their jobs.
Deborah Gist is a dynamo and has been worth every penny. Hoping Ms. Morfessis has the same mojo.
I'm loving the fact that we have people in state government who look and think outside the box that is Appalacian Rhode Island when looking for qualified people to change this incestuous politcal/business backwater.

Posted by: Tim at December 9, 2009 7:58 AM

I'm hard-pressed to understand what Ms. Morfessis will do to justify her cost. Is there a published list of previous accomplishments that she can show us to validate the economic value of her job?

Posted by: BobN at December 9, 2009 9:13 AM

Gist and Morfessis may only last until a Democrat is in as Governor. Its probably more like a short term consulting gig than a job and pricing is premium under those circumstances. I don't know about Morfessis, but I hope that Gist continues to shake things up for as long as she can.

Posted by: chuckR at December 9, 2009 9:28 AM

Yeah Justin, what are you doing? You're killing RIF's argument that AR never complains about these sorts of contracts!! What are they going to get on you for now?

Posted by: Patrick at December 9, 2009 9:44 AM


Of all the layers of problems with this hire, you focus on my mention of the fact that the big-bucks have been going to people from elsewhere?

1. A hiring freeze should mean a hiring freeze.
2. More than doubling the salaries of positions during a recession in the face of massive structural deficits is spit in the eye of everybody who's struggling in the state.
3. To the extent that these appointed officials bring about change, they will do so without correcting the initial problem: namely, the people whom we elect. They will do so by claiming authority not currently allocated to them.
4. When these stars go — because they burn out or because the they are snuffed — their salaries will be a precedent, as will the power that they have collected to their positions.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 9, 2009 10:21 AM

It's all about the vibe, anyway. The Governor is sending all the wrong signals here. How does he expect stste workers to take his message seriously? Before you fire off some witty one liner, think about it. Put yourself in the shoes of the average state worker, not one of the thousands of politically connected do nothing state workers that were granted their position, salary and benefits by virtue of knowing somebody, but the thousands of other, deserving people. All the talk over the summer and fall about deficits, giving back, hiring freezes and on and on.

And you wonder why "the unions" act the way they do? Here is a perfect example. A giant screw you from the CEO.

Just like Steve Cass. Thank god he was on duty during this latest weather emergency. Money well spent.

Posted by: michael at December 9, 2009 10:37 AM

Michael, while I also find hiring someone right now for a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money a bit sketchy, I also see a difference. The RI EDC director (and that movie business position) are hired to bring in money to the state. They're like fundraisers or some financial advisors. The problem that I have with this hiring is that I'd like to see a reasonable salary with more of the compensation be incentive-based, or give "merit pay" if people like those words better. Heck, I got no problem with this person making a million dollars a year if she turns RI to the other end of all the rankings. Let's motivate people and very few things motivate people more than money. It works in sales, it works in fundraising, it should be put in place here too.

Posted by: Patrick at December 9, 2009 10:43 AM

This is the same Governor who was paying
typist $102,858 a year?
The same Governor who said Steve Kass earned $100,000 ?

No Don, Steve Kass was paid $100,000 a year he earned about $18,000

Posted by: Kevin at December 9, 2009 1:57 PM

"This is the same Governor who was paying
typist $102,858 a year?"

No. No typist made that much. They might have paid that much to the agency, but any guesses on how much an average state house worker makes in total compensation? Not just salary, but all benefits included? It's in that ballpark. Staffing isn't cheap.

Posted by: Patrick at December 9, 2009 3:12 PM

Justin, you have got to be kidding me. So according to you the RIEDC should not hire a new leader to develop strategies to stimulate economic development and job growth here in RI because we have a hiring freeze in place given that our state's economy is in the tank because there has been no economic development or job growth prior to this hire?? That is hilarious!
Congrats Justin!! You are now an official Rhode Islander.

Patrick, the fact that you care what RIF has to say about anything is frightening - for you. Btw have those libs gotten around to condemning the beating of that illegal alien black man by Providence cops? Can you imagine how these hypocritical lib loons would rage if Providence had a Republican mayor?? They are so genuine in their love and concern for the poor and illegal unwashed masses now aren't they?? lol
I can see why you care what they think Pat. ;-)

Michael, having a member of the firefighter community expressing outrage over salaries to certain public employees is like having Tiger Woods offering up outrage over marital infidelity. You are a funny guy MM! lol
Btw Mike, your thoughts on the postage stamp size city of North Providence shelling out a $1 million a year in salary to the top 11 firefighters in their tiny city. THAT is what is killing this state and the taxpayers in it. Ain't that right Mike??

Posted by: Tim at December 9, 2009 3:22 PM

Firefighters earn their pay. If you want to argue that do a search of this site and reread the thousands of comments that went nowhere belaboring the point.

And what's with the Mike? I don't get it.

Posted by: michael at December 9, 2009 3:35 PM

Btw Mike, your thoughts on the postage stamp size city of North Providence shelling out a $1 million a year in salary to the top 11 firefighters in their tiny city.

Or, Lobmardi could have filled the 10 open spots, including a battalion chief's spot, years ago- eliminating most of the overtime. Now that Battalion Chief Charello is suspended, that's ANOTHER spot that has to be filled.

Posted by: EMT at December 9, 2009 4:18 PM

Leaving the reasonableness (or lack thereof) of Gist's salary aside, her position can actually accomplish something.

The EDC position, on the other hand, is a fig-leaf position at which the Democrats who run the General Assembly can point to (when it's convenient for them) as evidence that they're doing something to bring jobs to RI, or point the finger of blame at (when it's convenient for them) when Rhode Island keeps scraping along at the bottom of the economic barrel.

The EDC Director has no authority to change the tax or regulatory structure of RI, nor do anything about its political corruption, nor do anything about the union dominance (e.g., the General Assembly's refusal to make RI a right-to-work state), nor do anything about RI's poor public education system producing an unskilled workforce.

Rhode Island remains an economic sow's ear, and no EDC DIrector is going to make it into an economic silk purse, or anything resembling an economic silk purse.

So there's really no point RI having an EDC at all, much less a big-buck Director.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 9, 2009 4:57 PM

"Patrick, the fact that you care what RIF has to say about anything is frightening - for you. "

Sorry, I should have used the tags, but I thought it would be obvious.

Posted by: Patrick at December 9, 2009 5:51 PM

Let me try that again. That should have been <sarcasm> tags

Posted by: Patrick at December 9, 2009 7:08 PM
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