INDIANAPOLIS – Several senior members of Attorney General Curtis Hill's staff recently received significant raises – ranging from 4% to 14%.
But Hill isn't apologizing for the pay hikes.
“It's about being competitive” he said – not loyalty for sticking with Hill during a tenuous time.
“While we are trying to protect our newer, greener people it's also important we protect our more experienced people so we don't lose those folks,” Hill said. “And not only protecting in terms of where we are today but part of my objective is to leave this office better than when I found it.”
Hill last year was accused of drunkenly groping a female lawmaker and several legislative staffers at a late-night party in an Indianapolis bar. A special prosecutor chose not to file criminal charges, and an ethics investigation resulted in no action.
He resisted calls to resign from fellow Republicans and things were quiet for several months until March when the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against his law license. That proceeding is ongoing.
Given the tumult in the office, the pay increases in February raised some eyebrows.
For instance, Chief Deputy Attorney General Aaron Negangard saw his pay jump almost 10% – from $152,400 to more than $167,700. Solicitor General Thomas Fisher's salary rose 6.6% from $135,300 to $144,400. Others saw similar increases.
But Hill says it's simply the latest in a three-phase effort to make the wages in his office more competitive with those of other state agencies as well as the private sector.
“We were lacking significantly in key player salaries, and we're still not at the top of the heap,” he said.
Hill, for example, said chief of staff Mary Beth Bonaventura took a $40,000 pay cut when she came to the office initially as special counsel. She now is chief of staff making almost $170,000. But Hill noted other departments in state government pay more for similar posts.
Only 53 state employees make more than her – including various agency heads, Indiana Supreme Court justices and doctors at state hospitals.
Hill himself makes $101,000 – a salary set by lawmakers that rises slowly as state employees see pay increases.
Hill said he expects it to be difficult to compete with private law firms, but when he was elected, he found out other state agencies were essentially poaching his attorneys and paying them more.
An internal study found the agency was losing quality people to other agencies far too often – leaving the office with a gap in experience and having to make training investments repeatedly.
Phase one of the salary adjustments happened last June and covered about half of the employees in the office, mostly entry-level deputy attorneys general and investigators.
It cost about $1 million, and Hill said he still returned money to the state general fund.
The latest raises are phase two and affect more than 60 employees, including some senior staff, supervisors and paralegals.
The cost is around $430,000.
The final phase in the salary equalization effort was greenlighted this week and will go into effect later this month for another 60 employees, Hill said. The cost is about $384,000.