Louisiana Lawmakers Grill State Civil Service Director Over Pay Raises

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BATON ROUGE – Members of the Senate Finance Committee questioned the head of the Department of State Civil Service over recent reports of substantial raises for the agency’s top employees, including himself.

Civil Service Director Byron Decoteau struggled to explain to lawmakers the multiple rules and methods leveraged to increase pay for himself and two top employees in the department in recent years, an issue first exposed by WBRZ.

“The payments that were given, the news article suggested one of my employees got 11 pay increases and the other got nine, only four of those were given by me,” Decoteau told lawmakers Monday. “And those were given under a rule called optional pay. Those payments were made in accordance with civil service rules. They were rules that our agencies use throughout state government to retain their employees.”

The remaining raises were automatic annual increases given to all employees, he said.

Decoteau’s salary increased from about $154,000 in September to $175,006, with the raise approved by the Civil Service Commission during an executive session without the move posted to the agenda, WBRZ reported.

Deputy Director Chris Deer’s salary was $101,000 in 2017 and since has increased to $144,000. Another top employee, Nicole Tucker, had her salary increase from $62,000 in 2018 to $125,000, according to the news site.

Other employees in the department, meanwhile, earned increases between 2% and 4%, though Decoteau told lawmakers he has approved dozens of special adjustments for lower level employees during his seven years at the helm.

Decoteau said Civil Service uses the special raises to retain critical employees that could earn higher wages elsewhere and said some of the larger increases for top employees were aimed at righting their salary with increased job responsibilities.

Lawmakers pointed to another recent example of two nurses with Capital Area Human Services District who requested pay increases based on job offers from the private sector that were ultimately denied by the department. Officials with the Capital Area Services District said the nurses were critical to maintaining services, lawmakers said.

Decoteau argued the service’s seven-member commission opted to deny the raises because the job offers – for travel nursing – were not comparable with their current positions.

“In this particular circumstance, they didn’t think it was apples to apples, that any state employee could go out and get a job offer from a travel agency at this point in time,” he said.

Committee Chair Sen. Mack White, R-Baton Rouge, questioned whether the top employees at the Civil Service also received job offers before the big raises, but Decoteau did not answer directly.

“I know they were recruited from other individuals,” he said. “But the rule that was used was compression, and in each individual circumstance, these individuals were in a high-level role within my department earning less than what their subordinates made.”

White and others on the committee were not impressed with the justification.

“Those percentages of what you just said over five or six years is over 100%,” White said. “My staff, I think they’re some of the best there are in the state of Louisiana. I don’t think I could go to the (Senate) president and double any of their salary. In fact, I know I couldn’t. It would be very hard to justify to everyone else in the department.”

“You have to know this does not look good,” Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, told Decoteau. “You guys are responsible to a great degree how civil service runs across this state. So our main agency has the main guy getting a 13% pay raise, which everybody else would try to argue the same thing.

“Let me tell you, at the end of the day, I believe everybody should be paid what they’re worth,” she said. “But this is not a good look.”

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