Top three state agency officers get lucrative raises; Everyone else? 'No,' boss tells Nakamoto
BATON ROUGE- State Civil Service allowed leaders of the agency to help themselves to extraordinary raises last year, the WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered.
In a recent inquiry from the WBRZ team, documents showed one of the top executives received 11 pay increases in three years; Another leader received nine pay bumps in four years.
"Whether they did something wrong or not, it looks like they did," State Treasurer John Schroder said. "If it smells bad, it is bad. That's a problem with the system."
Schroder is tasked with overseeing how state money is spent. He said the upper echelon of state government should not be taking raises if there is not enough to go around for everyone else.
State Civil Service acts as the central human resources division for state agencies. According to its website, “As both a regulatory and consultative agency, we provide systems and services that will enable state agencies to make merit-based, quality decisions regarding the hiring, development and retention of skilled and capable individuals.”
The WBRZ Investigative Unit found Byron Decoteau, Chris Deer and Nicole Tucker received lucrative, high-dollar raises. The increases they received would not pass at other agencies Civil Service oversees. Some of the raises were doled out through a complicated process called compression while others were given after a position wasn't filled and the leaders helped themselves to what was budgeted.
RAISES FOR A CHOSEN FEW
Decoteau, the leader of Civil Service, was making $154,000 September 2021. His salary ballooned to $175,006 within the month. The way his raise was doled out was hidden from the public.
"I did approach the commission for a pay increase... my chairman to have it considered," Decoteau said. "It was considered at a public meeting and they decided to grant it."
However, the pay issue was never on the agenda. WBRZ found in the meeting minutes, the agenda was amended after commissioners voted unanimously to change it during the meeting.
"[The meeting agenda was changed] probably because we were in executive session and we adjourned to hear personnel matters," Decoteau said.
That brought up additional questions about why Decoteau's raise needed to be held in a secretive session to address a pay issue that he could not explain.
"It's demoralizing to the ranks," Schroder said. "At the end of the day, it's all about the money. That whole building is all about the money. We spend a lot of time watching that. You can't reward the managers without rewarding the rank and file. If anything, the managers should be awarded last, not first."
The situation gets more interesting for Decoteau's underlings. Chris Deer is the Deputy Director. He was making $101,000 in 2017. He received nine pay increases in four years. He's now earning nearly $144,000. That's a $43,000 raise in three years.
Nicole Tucker's salary is the most egregious. She was making $62,000 in 2018. Tucker received 11 pay increases in three years and is now making $125,000, a 100-percent increase. Tucker is the agency's chief operating officer.
NO MONEY FOR ANYONE ELSE
WBRZ asked Decoteau if he was looking at giving raises to the rest of the staff of State Civil Service.
"No, I don't have the funding to do it," Decoteau said.
During the interview, Chief Investigative Reporter Chris Nakamoto noted that Decoteau had money for the the top three to receive raises, including himself.
"That's how you're phrasing it," Decoteau responded.
Two years ago, the WBRZ Investigative Unit exposed alarming raises that were given at the State Office of Motor Vehicles in a similar way. Following the WBRZ investigation, State Civil Service said it revoked those raises because they weren't handed out correctly.
"We did pull the agency's authority to make those payments," Decoteau said. "We issued proposed notices to those employees saying it would be rescinded. Then, we worked with the agency to give them the opportunity to explain what they were trying to do."
WBRZ asked how Decoteau could help himself to a raise and find money for his other top two, but take action against another agency for doing the same.
"I disagree," Decoteau said. "I don't think we did the same thing OMV did."
MONEY GIVEN TO THE HARDEST WORKERS
Decoteau noted that part of the reason why he took the raise and gave them to Deer and Tucker is because they are the agency's hardest workers.
"Limited with funds and have to retain staff, that is critical," Decoteau said. "Limited to funds and have to recognize top performers especially in the time we are in now."
Decoteau acknowledged that it does not look fair but claimed they have given payments to other employees outside of market adjustments.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit requested salaries for dozens of other employees at Civil Service. Documents show they did not receive the level of pay raises Decoteau, Deer and Tucker did.
With others not getting the luxury of extra money, some believe the clever way to fatten their checks, doesn't pass the smell test.
"It's a different set of rules, and it's wrong," Schroder said.