Burr lands state job, pay raise

Published 6:32 pm Friday, December 7, 2018

Although N.C. House Rep. Justin Burr will no longer represent District 67, the Stanly County Republican remains on the state taxpayers’ payroll.

Rep. Justin Burr

Not only has Burr landed a job with the state but multiple repostings of the position along with legislative action to ensure a higher salary make it appear political insiders helped him get a leg-up on the competition.

Thursday another piece of the puzzle fell into place when state legislators passed SB469. A provision in the bill includes a section aimed at Burr getting a salary above the state’s compensation grading system.

“Unfortunately, things like this go on,” said N.C. Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, about Burr being first gifted with a parting job and then at a higher salary than classified. “They had the votes to do it. I think this is pure politics. It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last that people are awarded jobs with tax dollars.

“I understand it, but I don’t agree with it,” he added.

Goodman, whose district includes part of Stanly County, said a group of legislators talked about amending SB469 to purge the section about Burr’s impending salary, but decided against it. Goodman voted for the bill that primarily targets changes to unrelated sections of state code.

Burr has been hired as executive director for the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council (OHAC), a branch of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC).

Records obtained by The Stanly News & Press show Burr was allowed to apply for the job after its original posting had been closed for nearly three months and after he suffered a defeat in the GOP primary, ending a five-term reign as a legislator.

In 2015, the state legislature established the OHAC, which is comprised of 13 board members. Two years later, the position of executive director was established with plans the job would become receipt-supported in fiscal year 2020-21, records show.

No one has held the position since its creation.

Minimum requirements for the job, first titled program analyst I, included graduation from a four-year college with an emphasis on business and public administration. While Burr has some college, his highest level of education is a high school diploma. In addition to 10 years in the House, Burr’s career experience includes working as a bail bondsman.

At the time of the May posting, the salary range for the position was listed at $46,203-$73,924.

The position was reposted four times with a new classification and salary range after the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) began to push back about the salary offered in relation to the job description and qualifications.

On May 15, the position was again advertised but as program director II, with a higher salary range of $69,949-$118,913.

It was then Burr reportedly applied and interviewed.

Another posting for July 20-30 listed the job as OHAC director with a salary range of $51,895-$88,221. However, Burr did not reapply at this time, records show.

A subsequent posting appeared Aug. 28-Sept. 3 with the same title and salary range. This time Burr reportedly reapplied with a notation on his application, obtained by the SNAP, that states, “Willing to work at the $88,221 salary until the position is correctly re-classified and salary is returned to at least the previous advertised amount.”

In an interview with WRAL in Raleigh on Tuesday, Burr said the back and forth dispute over a lower salary occurred once he applied for the position.

“It was a substantial change,” Burr told WRAL. “After my name (had been put in).”

Burr did not return a telephone or email message seeking comment for this story.

He recused himself from voting on SB469.

Numerous candidates pursued the job.

“Over 100 individual applicants applied for the position of Outdoor Heritage Advisory Commission executive director, with at least 10 applicants each time the position was posted,” said Elaine Darby, spokeswoman for the OSHR.

On Aug. 30, the OHAC, led by Chairman Dell Murphy, held a seven-minute conference call about its plans to hire an executive director, reportedly to be Burr. The board unanimously passed a resolution authorizing Murphy to negotiate employment.

The resolution further states Murphy had encountered problems with getting the salary approved. It called for the position to be reposted at the reduced salary “to avoid further delays.”

The OHAC resolution also called for continued efforts to return the salary to the higher level.

“Whereas Chairman Murphy is authorized to convey to candidates that the Council shall continue to pursue specific authorization to restore the salary and benefits to the level that was initially contemplated,” the resolution stated.

Repeated telephone messages left for Murphy seeking comment have not been returned.

Moreover, an email was forwarded to all OHAC board members seeking comment. Only Charles F. McDowell responded, citing the matter as a personnel issue. He deferred comment to WRC.

The WRC is charged with providing support services to the OHAC. Those support services include budgeting and accounting, information technology, purchasing, and human resources administration. The office referred questions about Burr’s hire back to the OHAC.

Since its pursuit of a director, the OHAC and OSHR have engaged in a tug-of-war over the director’s appropriate salary.

As part of the transition to the new Classification & Compensation System, which went online June 1, OSHR reviewed all existing job descriptions. This position was vacant and, upon review, was determined to be more appropriately classified as a program development coordinator, Darby explained.

“This classification typically is used for positions in small programs with a small staff and/or limited scope, whereas program director II typically is used for a large program with large staff and/or complex mission,” she said.

Examples of the latter include such state jobs as the ABC chief administrator, executive director of the State Board of Elections and directors of Youth Development Centers.

Another such job that qualifies at a higher salary is that of Mike Sprayberry, director of Emergency Management. He has 20 years public service experience, supervises hundreds of employees and oversees natural disaster recoveries. Sprayberry earns $123,000 annually.

An OHAC director supervises a maximum of two people.

A number of state boards, however, have the autonomy to set salaries for directors without state interference.

“It is not unusual for a board or commission to have the authority to set its executive director salary,” said Jill Lucas, spokeswoman for OSHR.  “Generally, if the organic statute says:  ‘appointed by,’ ‘serves at the pleasure of,’ and ‘compensation set by,’ OSHR does not have control over the salary; the Board does.”

Burr works at the pleasure of the OHAC.

The OHAC was established to bolster a younger generation’s interest in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Funding derives from  voluntary $2 contributions when outdoor enthusiasts buy hunting and fishing licenses.

OHAC members are appointed by the governor, legislative leadership, the state agriculture commissioner and the chairman of the WRC.