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Tillis defends severance payments for disgraced staffers

Posted May 17, 2012
Updated May 18, 2012

NC Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis on Thursday defended more than $19,000 in severance pay he ordered for two staffers who departed amidst a sex scandal.

Tillis’s former Chief of Staff Charles Thomas left the office at the end of April, after a videotape by a private investigator showed him in a romantic relationship with Jessi Hayes, a lobbyist for the NC Home Builders Association. Both Thomas and Hayes are married, and both were left jobless by the scandal.

According to records from the General Assembly controller’s office, Thomas’s salary was $150,000. On Friday, he was paid $12,500 “In Lieu of Notice,” as well as $9,338.94 in unused vacation time.

Payment for unused vacation time is standard for state employees who resign. But “Payment in Lieu of Notice” is not. Legislative employees like Thomas are “EPA” – exempt from the State Personnel Act – and can be fired at will with no notice. Tillis backs pay for ousted staffers Tillis backs pay for ousted staffers

Less than a week later, Tillis’s former policy advisor Amy Hobbs also left the office after the same videotape exposed her relationship with lobbyist Dean Plunkett. Plunkett is also married. Tillis says Hobbs is a “single mother.”

Records from the controller’s office show Hobbs’s salary in Tillis’s office was $82,000. She was paid $6,833.33 “In Lieu of Notice” and $4,632.20 in unused vacation time.

Tillis: “It’s fair”

The Speaker’s critics were quick to point out that thousands of state workers who lost jobs due to budget cuts had family obligations, too, but received no severance pay.

But Tillis insisted Thursday the payouts were “fair.”

“There was about 2 weeks notice you would normally give in a resignation. I told them they would need to sever on the day they provided it. And then there were ten other days," Tillis told reporters. "But in my opinion, given the broader context, I do believe it's fair, and I've outlined that in the statement.” Tillis Tillis on $19,000 severance deal

Tillis issued the following statement shortly before he finally spoke to reporters camped out outside his office for hours.

“In December of 2010 and January of 2011, Charles Thomas worked without pay and did not accept the State Health Plan benefits for himself or his family during his tenure as Chief of Staff. Amy Hobbs also worked without pay in January of 2011. They both accepted salaries below that of their peers in state government for a period of three months in early 2011 and were instrumental in overseeing the most time-efficient long session in modern history, saving thousands of taxpayer dollars.

“I accepted their resignations because their personal choices were not acceptable in my office. I recognized that their jobs and careers were forever affected by their choices, and that serious family obligations still existed for each of them. I stand by my decision to accept their resignation while recognizing the difficult transition period they are now entering.”

Hobbs and Thomas were among several Tillis staffers given large pay raises last spring. In Thomas’s case, the raise was 30%. At the time, Tillis said he had hired the staffers at probationary wages, raising their salaries to the “full” level after three months of satisfactory performance.

There was no notation of any such plan in the publicly available hiring documents for any of those employees. Probationary wages are not sanctioned by the state personnel act, either.

Democrats: “Slap in the face”

The NC Democratic Party, still dealing with the fallout from its own sexual harassment scandal at party headquarters, called for Tillis to reimburse the state for the severance payments from his campaign funds.

"Clearly Thom Tillis has a serious problem with his priorities. For Tillis to slash funding for public schools and lay off thousands of educators and then turn around and give his disgraced former staffers cash payments using taxpayer money is a slap in the face to the people of North Carolina,” said NCDP spokesman Walton Robinson in a statement today.

“We are calling on Thom Tillis to immediately reimburse the state of North Carolina for the total cost of these inappropriate golden parachute payments for his former staffers. Clearly, his campaign promises about eliminating wasteful spending were nothing more than cheap political rhetoric," Robinson added.

Tillis’s spokesman Jordan Shaw did not respond to a request for comment on the call for reimbursement.

Tillis said this afternoon he still has the support of his caucus.

87 Comments

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  • SARCASTICLES May 23, 7:21 p.m.

    Funny how Mr. Tillis was overcome with compassion for his staffers after they had to RESIGN in disgrace, and gave them almost TWENTY GRAND of OUR tax money to help them stay on their feet. Where was this Tillis guy back when all those unemployed people in NC were being held hostage by the NCGOP over their unemployment benefits? Hypocrisy, thy name is republican. Good luck in 2072, NCGOP. ;)

  • lalaloo May 21, 11:18 a.m.

    lalaloo, Mr. Tillis is not the only person that's done garbage like this on Jones St. You know that as well as anyone. This is the kind of things the dems pull, and he does not need to take lessons from them.
    driverkid3

    No one said he was the only one. Nor did I say anything about democrats. Reading comprehension is sorely lacking in NC, yet education is cut at every turn.

  • geosol May 18, 7:47 p.m.

    REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER AND VOTE AGAINST ALL REPUBLICANS IN EVERY RACE!!!

  • Dukefan1 May 18, 7:40 p.m.

    "I guess you prefer having your taxes continuously raised. As to the budget, the only butcher issue is that the cuts were far too tiny. We need serious cuts so we can work on getting this State out of debt and put the money back that was stolen from the highway trust fund."

    LOL You must work for the DOT.
    whatelseisnew

  • TOMMYG May 18, 7:25 p.m.

    Tillis..just like Jim Black! Give them power, they will abuse it!

  • driverkid3 May 18, 7:25 p.m.

    lalaloo, Mr. Tillis is not the only person that's done garbage like this on Jones St. You know that as well as anyone. This is the kind of things the dems pull, and he does not need to take lessons from them.

  • driverkid3 May 18, 7:22 p.m.

    That is a no-no! Mr. Tillis, don't be like the dems.

  • Plenty Coups May 18, 6:39 p.m.

    whatelseisnew-"Actually Tillis did not lay off any educators. But I think the only money they should have been given was the vacation pay and at most 2 weeks in severance."

    Spoken like a true ideologue.

  • Unbroken May 18, 6:18 p.m.

    "Actually Tillis did not lay off any educators. But I think the only money they should have been given was the vacation pay and at most 2 weeks in severance. Maybe he could call on Jim Black to give up some of that bathroom money as a way of covering the expense.

    I guess you prefer having your taxes continuously raised. As to the budget, the only butcher issue is that the cuts were far too tiny. We need serious cuts so we can work on getting this State out of debt and put the money back that was stolen from the highway trust fund.

    whatelseisnew"

    Two weeks severance for adultery? Nice! Only in America. What I prefer is to not have my taxes raised and not have what money I do have to hand over to the government to be used to pay some "ppor" staffer who had to resign based on his inability to tell the truth and be faithful to his wife, party and citizens of North Carolina. But I guess that is asking too much. Whatelseisnew indeed.

  • quaten May 18, 6:06 p.m.

    It's good to see that the government as the nation's largest employer is making a financial comeback - allowing for such generous entitlements for the terminated employee.

    We all stand in awe, wondering how they are so profitable and able. For the average small business, such compensation would be ruinous.

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