The Birmingham News ran an article yesterday (the online version of which is in serious need of an editor's mouse) detailing the inflated salaries of some of Alabama AG Troy King's aides. King's chief of staff and spokesman, Chris Bence, apparently managed to keep a straight face while explaining how King had designated Bence a paralegal this spring — despite his complete lack of legal education or experience — in order to increase his salary from $94,000 to $104,400. He says Troy did it to make up for the three years he didn't get a raise. And, according to him, the AG has the authority to appoint five paralegals without regard to their qualifications.
Okay. Assuming Bence is telling the truth about not getting a raise for three years, it might be reasonable to give him what amounts to around a 3.5% annual increase in pay. (Although, geez, $104,000 to be Troy's spokesbot? Maybe it includes combat pay.) What's not reasonable is allowing the AG to confer the title of paralegal on someone who hasn't earned it. It's an insult to the actual paralegals who have put in the time and effort to obtain what is, in the real world, a professional designation.
The article's most explosive account, however, is the meteoric rise of 24-year-old John Godwin, Troy's executive assistant.
Godwin started working in the attorneys general office as an unpaid intern last summer, when he was a senior at Troy University. Shortly after arriving in Kings office, Godwin was put on the payroll at $10 an hour. Over the next nine months, Godwin rapidly ascended the ladder. In July 2007, King appointed him as a special administrative assistant earning $39,456 a year. He completed his degree in broadcast journalism in December, and on March 27 was named to his current title of executive assistant, a job paying $57,504 annually, according to state records. “J.W. is an exceptional young man who is the chief aide to the attorney general and who is almost indispens able in terms of the many functions he carries out in this office,” Bence said. Bence said Godwins duties include policy research and constituent relations, and he serves as a liaison between the attorney general and the staff. Godwin travels with King as part of his duties, such as accompanying him to this years National Association of Attorneys General Conference.
Here's my question. Is this article merely a follow-up on the Legal Newsline piece from a couple of weeks ago that pointed out King's own high salary (second only to California)? Or is it the News' attempt to sniff around the edges of the rumors about King and his executive assistant that have been floating around the state for weeks without addressing them outright?
In light of said rumors, it's easy to read some serious innuendo into the (really, really long) paragraph quoted above. “J.W. is an exceptional young man who is the chief aide to the attorney general and who is almost indispensable in terms of the many functions he carries out in this office”? Godwin travels with King as part of his duties? Really?
Even if there's nothing to the rumors, I see no reason why, in the era of cell phones and Blackberries, King should need an assistant to travel with him at taxpayers' expense. Can't the man carry his own luggage? And if he really needs that much help, wouldn't he want to pay that $57, 504 to someone with more experience?
I'll admit I have personal reasons to be offended by this. Oldest daughter has been working for the state (and I do mean working — she has built up a ridiculous amount of overtime because her office is perpetually short-staffed and underfunded) for four years. She holds a Master's degree in her field. She makes nowhere near what John Godwin makes, and she doesn't get to take free boondoggle trips around the country. She is indispensable to her superiors, but they have no way to game the system in order to compensate her appropriately for her efforts.
There's a third story in the article, that of Kenneth Steely, an attorney who at one point held Godwin's job before taking a leave of absence to manage King's 2006 campaign. Ten days after King won the election, he appointed Steely a deputy attorney general, with a salary almost $30,000 more than he had made in his previous position. Of course, this promotion and pay increase were in no way a reward for political victory; they were intended to keep Steely from leaving the AG's office for private practice. Let's see how that worked out: Steely left the AG's staff a year later but was hired as a contract attorney just last month. The article doesn't say how much he's making now, but I bet those hourly rates are pretty high.
It remains to be seen whether the News and other media will follow up, putting all of the above together with Troy's prior ethical lapses, grandstanding, and questionable ethics. I can't count how many times I've linked to Dan's list of Troy's Greatest Hits, the combined weight of which should have seen him leaving office in disgrace long ago. We'll see.
I got an email from a reader a couple of weeks ago asking why I hadn't written at length about the rumors of Troy's dalliance with his aide. Here's why: I don't think Troy King's sexual orientation has any bearing on his job performance, and, in the absence of evidence that he was using taxpayer money to further his purported affair, I couldn't see calling for his resignation solely because of “gay rumors”. I've seen that tactic used against good people too many times.
The cry across the blogosphere has been, “It's not the gayness; it's the hypocrisy,” and that is absolutely true — for those of us who really believe in LGBT equality. Unfortunately, if the rumors are substantiated, I'm afraid the majority opinion will not be “Troy King, hypocritical gay-basher”. It's much more likely to be “Troy King, disgusting fag”. And we already knew Troy King was a hypocrite.
Dan, Loretta, and the folks at Left In Alabama (here and here) are covering this as well, and an enterprising commenter at Loretta's place points out that the national average starting salary for a journalism student is $32,250. John Godwin has gone from zero to $57,250 in a year's time, in a state with the 10th lowest cost of living in the country, and he's not even working in his field of study. That's not proof of a sexual relationship; for all I know, his family is well-connected in Republican political circles and the job is a reward for loyalty. He may be so very good at his job — and by that I mean his job, not his “job” — that he's highly sought after by other employers. I do think that kind of money for a young single person would be a powerful incentive to keep his mouth shut. I doubt the Montgomery Advertiser pays entry-level reporters as much.
h/t Blues reader Peggy, cross-posted at Birmingham Blues