DHHS paid chief of staff $37,000 'severance' after month of work

Posted September 20, 2013

— The Department of Health and Human Services paid Thomas L. Adams $37,227.25 as "severance" after he served just one month as chief of staff at the department. 

His is the latest high-dollar salary to come to light at the agency responsible for overseeing Medicaid, food stamps and other human service programs. Hefty contracts given to politically connected executives and $80,000-plus salaries granted to younger staffers who worked for Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign have made news in recent weeks. 

Adams' severance payment stands out even from those payments, particularly because he occupied an exempt position, meaning he could be hired and fired at will with little notice and no need for the state to give cause and no appeal rights.

"It's ridiculous," said Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. "It's a shame that DHHS is becoming the political patronage department of state government." 

Adams' hiring was announced in a DHHS newsletter, describing him as having "extensive high-level management experience, having served as the chief executive of numerous professional associations across the country, including the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons."

Before taking the job, Adams, 62, was a registered lobbyist for the North Carolina Captive Insurance Association. He resigned his post as a lobbyist of Feb. 21, according to records at the Secretary of State's Office. Adams was reinstated as a lobbyist for the association on May 17, and current publicly available profiles list him as the group's president.

Phone calls and emails to Adams' home and office on Friday afternoon were not immediately returned. 

Ricky Diaz, communications director for DHHS, did not explain why an employee hired by Secretary Aldona Wos left in such short order. 

"The size, scope and responsibilities of the Department of Health and Human Services are immense, and the challenges are among the greatest in state government. Since January, over 1,600 people have left the department and over 1,400 people have been hired to positions," he said in a written statement Friday afternoon.

Asked for further information, Diaz said, "By law, personnel matters are confidential, so I am not able to comment further."

The $37,227.25 settlement was first reported by the liberal-leaning Progressive Pulse website. That settlement was in addition to $14,000 in salary he earned over his short tenure. His job would have been a $155,000-per-year position. 

All told, DHHS paid Adams $51,426 after working from March 1 to April 2, according to payment data provided by the department. That means he earned more in a month than any other state employee. As an exempt employee classified as a health and human services senior planner, salary records show Adams already earned more than 99 percent of the more than 16,000 full-time employees in the department.

The settlement agreement was unusual enough that it required Wos to submit a special request to Budget Director Art Pope on July 29. Pope signed off on the agreement in a hand-written note dated July 30, saying "OK to process, Art Pope."

Pope could not immediately reached Friday. 

The payment makes good on what was drafted as a "severance agreement" and signed by Adams on April 1. The agreement, provided by DHHS Friday, said Adams had planned to work for Wos and DHHS for six months.

Although it does not deal in specifics, as part of the agreement Adams agrees to release the agency for any number of claims, including "infliction of emotional distress, wrongful or unlawful discharge" or for violating federal statutes that prohibit age discrimination against workers. The agreement also includes a non-disclosure clause. 

Cope said he would be asking to meet with McCrory regarding Adams' severance, as well as the high salaries given to other DHHS workers.

"The governor is going to have to get a handle on what's going on there," Cope said. "It needs to be stopped."


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  • Makami Sep 24, 2013

    Dag his severance check was more than I make in a year as a state employee...

  • Makami Sep 24, 2013

    but there no money for medicaid........... SMDH

  • nav2011Raleigh Sep 24, 2013

    The Republicans learned so well from 20 years of mismanagement by the Democlowns! Though this does not make it right! And, you have not seen foolish money spent until Department of Administration is really, correctly audited and hopefully investigated! This would not even be a story compared to the previous years in DOA.

  • Steven Sep 24, 2013

    I just love when chumps like jcarroll51 come on a thread that has nothing to do with the President, yet brings him up over and over to deflect from the topic at hand. Keep on spinning away jcarroll51.

  • teammugs Sep 23, 2013

    Elections are coming...if you like the way the state is going - vote republican...if you don't - vote them out before they can gerrymander themselves in more comfortably...if you don't vote and don't like things...look in the mirror...

  • jcarroll51 Sep 23, 2013

    "IMPEACH McCory NOW before any more Foolish MONEY is SPENT !!!!!!"

    Unfortunately we can't have recall elections in this state. Otherwise, maybe these people would shape up.
    Click to view my profile Steven

    Sounds good, Steven. While we're at it, maybe we should impeach Obama since Lois Lerner has been drawing a salary for months while on leave of absence. The amount that she has collected makes the 50 grand collected by Adams look like chump change.

  • Wacky_dood Sep 23, 2013

    I'm still waiting for Roy Cooper to weigh in on this...

  • jcarroll51 Sep 23, 2013

    Actually, most of us DO NOT make a lot of money and are NOT overpaid for the work we do. Not at all. Most state employees could make more in the private sector. If you want to say those at the top are grossly overpaid, I might agree with you there. But not the rank and file state employee. Not even close.
    September 23, 2013 9:47 a.m.
    [abuse] Report abuse

    If you're a state employee and you truly believe you can make more in the private sector, why don't you quit your state job and go work in the private sector? Don't do us any favors by taking a pay cut; there are probably 300 applications on file for your job.

  • raleighboy524 Sep 23, 2013

    Highway robbery!

  • hp277 Sep 23, 2013

    It's time for Aldona Wos to resign. I don't think North Carolina can afford all these Republican payoffs, especially with all the lawsuits coming too.

    I'm not sure NC could afford her severance package...