Hefty raises at DHHS raise question of qualifications
Posted August 16, 2013
Updated August 17, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory asked state agencies in March to freeze pay raises wherever possible to help the state cover its growing Medicaid shortfall. State personnel records show the agency that oversees Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services, gave out hefty raises anyway, especially to the governor's former campaign staffers.
WRAL News found 280 full-time workers at DHHS who have received raises totaling $1.7 million since the governor's directive. Also, some of those receiving raises have no career or educational experience for the jobs they hold. The information on state salaries comes from BEACON, the state government payroll system.
Mark Gogal, director of human resources for DHHS, pointed out that total is equal to 0.25 percent of the total agency payroll.
"Those increases were allowed under the governor's memo for promotions at that time," Gogal said, adding the DHHS total payroll budget is down $21 million from the same time last year.
- Matthew McKillip, 24, makes $87,500 a year as a senior policy planner at DHHS. He received a $22,500 raise on April 1.
McKillip, who worked on McCrory's campaign, has no educational background or experience in health policy on his resume, although he did work briefly at a conservative think tank.
- Jason Simmons, 35, is also a policy planner at DHHS. He also received a $22,500 raise in April and now earns $62,500 year.
Simmons was a campaign operative for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney before going to work for McCrory, but his available information also shows no educational background or experience in health policy.
- Ricky Diaz, 24, is a public relations officer at DHHS. He got a $23,000 raise in April and now makes $85,000 a year.
Diaz was McCrory's campaign press secretary and worked in his press office before going to DHHS. His available information shows no educational background or experience in health policy and little experience in communications, with most of that in online and social media.
- Anthony Vellucci, the information technology director for NC FAST, received a $23,000 raise in June and now earns $168,000 a year. Vellucci does have an IT background, but the raise comes amid an array of problems with the social services benefits system that has left many hungry families without food stamps.
WRAL News asked DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos for more information about how the raises were awarded and how Republican campaign staffers with no health policy experience had landed highly paid jobs running the agency.
Gogal declined to answer questions regarding the hires' qualifications, responding instead that all of them are qualified for their positions and that the agency must "hire and retain individuals capable of moving its massive policy and budgetary issues forward."
"The individuals you inquired about were promoted to positions with significant responsibilities and a high level of accountability. The department's goal is to hire outstanding talent, regardless of age, to aggressively implement much needed solutions," Gogal said in a statement.
"More importantly, these individuals are in fact capably and successfully performing the significant duties of their positions," he said.
Wos made news in February for hiring a director for the state's pre-kindergarten program, Dianna Lightfoot, whose online postings revealed she was opposed to pre-K. Lightfoot had also tweeted that the Japan earthquake was caused by an "ultrasonic beam" from China or North Korea .
Lightfoot opted not to accept the job one day after WRAL News broke the story. DHHS at that time declined to explain its vetting process for new hires.