Lt. Gov. Kinder's employees awarded temporary pay raises

Monday, September 29, 2008 | 11:11 a.m. CDT; updated 1:25 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 29, 2008

ST. LOUIS — When employees in Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's office have taken unpaid leave to do political work, some of the remaining employees have benefited with bigger paychecks.

The practice has been repeated in each of the last three years: One employee leaves for a few months to work for Kinder's political allies, and others in Kinder's office split up the departed workers' paycheck, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday.

Kinder said the employees received temporary pay increases because they took on some of the duties of the worker who left. He denied the payments were bonuses, which would be illegal under Missouri law.

But state timecard records show that some of Kinder's employees worked fewer hours during the time when they were paid additional salary.

A Post-Dispatch computer analysis of nearly every temporary pay increase offered to state employees since June 2006, when Kinder began the practice, showed that state employees received, on average, 7 percent more than their regular salary. Kinder's employees in that period averaged a 64 percent increase.

Kinder, who faces Democratic Rep. Sam Page in his bid for re-election this November, stressed that he has a staff of just five that at times has been down to three.

"Without exception, my people bust their butts day and night for this office," Kinder said.

Kinder started awarding temporary salary increases to employees in June 2006, when Jerry Dowell, director of policy and legislative affairs, took leave to work for the Missouri Republican Party to help elect House members.

Kinder's chief of staff and general counsel, Eric Feltner, received a raise equal to 51 percent of his salary. Communications director Barry Bennett's raise was even bigger, an 84 percent bump over his regular paycheck.

The lieutenant governor's office received a cautionary note from the state's Office of Administration about implementing the extra pay.

"To avoid a 'bonus' situation (or the appearance that a bonus situation is involved) the pay increase is tied to additional duties," wrote Guy Krause of the Office of Administration to Kinder employee Laurie Dawson. "A 'bonus' situation comes in when an employee is paid for work that he/she has already done and been paid for. We all should avoid this situation."

A few days later, Feltner and Bennett received letters dated July 1 defining their new raises. Both letters say the two men were receiving their extra pay because of "additional legislative duties."

The letters don't describe those duties. And the legislative session had already ended.

The next year, in 2007, chief of staff Ben Jones left in March to work for the state Senate for a few months. This time Feltner, Dowell and Bennett received the extra pay. The raises were worth $1,200 per pay period, a more than 50 percent increase for Feltner and Dowell and a 92 percent hike for Bennett.

Neither Feltner nor Bennett work for Kinder anymore. Feltner resigned in June after news broke about his indictment on misdemeanor pornography charges. He later pleaded guilty to publicly displaying sexually explicit material and was placed on probation.

Bennett is now the House communications director. Dowell recently came back to Kinder's payroll after being on leave much of the summer working for the congressional campaign of Kinder ally Blaine Luetkemeyer.

When Dowell went on leave this year, Kinder gave temporary pay raises to three staff members, including spokesman Gary McElyea, who defended what amounted to a 60 percent raise.

"From the afternoon of June 6 through Aug. 15, I served, for all practical purposes, as the interim chief of staff following Eric Feltner's forced resignation," McElyea said.

McElyea also said that during the summer, Kinder was frequently the acting governor as Gov. Matt Blunt was traveling, and that meant more work on bill signings and news conferences.

"It was a staggering workload," Kinder said of his staff, McElyea in particular. "They were working longer hours, and the pay records reflect that."

But payroll records contradict Kinder's assertion about longer hours.

In Kinder's office, three employees actually averaged fewer work hours per week during their temporary increase periods than they did when they were receiving regular pay, timecards indicate.

In McElyea's case, his timecard shows that he worked an average of 97.75 hours during the two-week pay periods in which he received his regular salary. During the period when McElyea was paid 60 percent more of his salary, he averaged 90.14 hours. He also took 32 hours of vacation during the higher salary period.

The discrepancy for Dowell, who received extra pay from March through June 2007, was even larger. Dowell worked for an average of 83.46 hours while being paid his regular salary. When he was paid extra money, his work averaged 74.64 hours per pay period.

Asked about the records, Kinder said he was unaware that some of his employees had actually worked fewer hours during the time of their temporary pay increases.

"Each week presents its own challenges, and it is difficult to compare week to week and say as a matter of course that each hour requires additional pay," Kinder said through a spokesman. "It is the increase in duties that is relevant, and in this case there were increased duties being distributed amongst the remaining staff."

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