Editorial: Some DHHS pay can be defended, but some can’t

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 01:24 AM

Most of the payroll decisions that Aldona Wos, state secretary of health and human services, has made can be defended as judgment calls, even if you disagree with them.

You might think it is excessive to pay anyone $314,000 for a one-year consulting contract, or to give someone a $37,000 “separation” payment after only one month of work, but at some level those decisions can be defended if the person being paid at least has a background and track record commensurate with the task that person was assigned.

Wos said essentially that much Tuesday when she was grilled by both Republicans and Democrats on a legislative oversight committee.

“My obligation as secretary is to find the best possible team in order to get the job done,” she told the legislators.

If you are paying $314,000 or anything close to that for a single year of work by any human being, you are setting yourself up for an eventual take-down because it’s unlikely you are going to get markedly better results from that highly paid consultant than you would from a full-time, salaried employee you could hire for, oh, let’s say $150,000 – or less.

But it’s Wos’ prerogative to decide that person’s qualifications merit the pay. We think she’s wrong, but time will tell.

However, there is no defense at all for making a couple of 24-year-olds with zero background in health or human services – that is no exaggeration: zero background – among the highest-paid state employees in Wos’ department. Wos told legislators that the youngsters in question, communications director Ricky Diaz and chief policy advisor Matthew McKillip, like others are paid at the same levels others in those positions were paid, which is the case of Diaz and McKillip is more than $80,000 each.

That may be true but is entirely beside the point. What in the personal, educational or work history of those two people qualifies them for those two jobs? No one can figure that out. Diaz never before held a communications job and didn’t study it in school. McKillip never held a health-related job, let alone involved in forming policy, and never studied health issues in school.

Neither Wos nor anyone else has provided a plausible explanation for what makes these two qualified to do more than tote coffee, leaving those promotions looking like personal favors done for someone else.

That Wos continues to defend those two promotions destroys her credibility on all of the other personnel decisions she was asked about Tuesday.