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Bill tinkers with salary for state job sought by retiring legislator

December 4th, 2018

— Legislation that emerged Tuesday tinkers with the salary for a new state position a retiring House member has applied for, after Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration pushed for lower pay.

The measure would let the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council set the salary for its new executive director, a position the General Assembly created last year but that has gone unfilled and seen its posted salary range change at least twice.

The proposed legislative change comes after back and forth between legislative leadership and the Office of State Human Resources over how that salary would be set.

Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, who lost his re-election bid in the May primary, confirmed that he applied for the job and was interviewed in June. During the process, the state human resources department reclassified the job, he said, lowering the salary.

“It was a substantial change,” Burr said. “After my name (had been put in).”

Burr said he was “absolutely not” involved in the legislative effort to change the salary. He recused himself from voting on the bill Tuesday in committee.

The state posted this job in May with a top salary of about $74,000. That was boosted to nearly $119,000 in a subsequent posting, then dropped down to a maximum of $88,221. The council voted in August to interview candidates at the lower salary level, but also to seek an increase and to tell candidates that an effort to boost the salary was ongoing.

A spokeswoman for the Office of State Human Resources said the position was reviewed as part of a transition to the state’s new classification and compensation system in June.

“This position was vacant and, upon review, was determined to be more appropriately classified as a Program Development Coordinator,” spokeswoman Jill Lucas said in an email. “This classification typically is used for positions in small programs with a small staff and/or limited scope.”

The higher salary contemplated would have been more in line larger state agencies that have hundreds of employees, Lucas said.

The executive director will be the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council’s only employee, though state code empowers him or her to hire staff or consultants.

House Rules Chairman David Lewis, whose committee heard this bill Tuesday afternoon, emailed with state human resources officials about the job at the end of last month to work on language that would let the appointed council to set the salary on its own. He said council members reached out, saying they thought they already had the power to set the salary.

The way the bill reads now, “the director’s salary shall be fixed by the Council.” It cleared the House Rules Committee as part of Senate Bill 469, which is a “technical corrections bill” making changes to a number of unrelated sections of state code. No committee member from either party asked during the meeting about this section of the bill.

The Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council was created in 2015, and its goal is to boost young people’s interest in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. It’s funded by voluntary $2 contributions people make when they buy hunting and fishing licenses.

Council members are appointed by the governor, legislative leadership, the state agriculture commissioner and the chair of the state Wildlife Commission.

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