MADISON (WKOW) -- Attorney General J.B. Hollen continued avoiding comment on thousands in merit bonuses awarded to state Department of Justice employees, including his top political appointee, as other state managers indicated less generous bonus payments were planned.
At a State Capitol news conference Tuesday, Van Hollen left before reporters could ask him about more than $285,000 in merit pay awarded to Justice Department employees last month.
Van Hollen's top political appointee, Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John, received an annual salary increase of more than $5,000 as a merit bonus. A DOJ spokesperson has said St. John's salary increase and other bonus payments were warranted.
An official with the Department of Public Instruction had previously told 27 News no DPI employee received a discretionary merit compensation award.
But DPI superintendent Tony Evers told 27 News a small number of employees are expected to receive merit bonuses, in what Evers termed a move for the employees to achieve pay equity with other department staff positions.
UW-System spokesperson David Giroux said more than 40 employees received discretionary merit compensation awards, but did not provide the total worth of the payments and salary increases.
Giroux said employees who received bonuses were groundskeepers, bookkeepers and other support staff. Giroux said faculty members and academic staff are covered by other pay rules.
Governor Scott Walker revived the merit pay system last month after former Governor Jim Doyle ended merit bonuses in 2008, citing state budget challenges.
But Walker told 27 News consideration of merit bonuses for thousands of employees under his control were on indefinite hold. Walker said plans are being developed to ensure bonus payments are made equitably across state government.
AFSCME Council 24 executive director Marty Beil told 27 News Walker's merit pay system lacks specific criteria for employees to qualify for bonuses. Beil said the compensation approach is vulnerable to favoritism and nepotism.
In addition to the merit increase to St. John's annual salary to bring it to more than $134,000, St. John's wife, Rebecca Rapp St. John, also received a discretionary merit compensation award of more than $4,000 annually.
Beil said the merit-system is stacked in favor of higher-salaried managers such as St. John, who can qualify for salary base-building raises, while lower-paid, rank-and-file workers can only receive one-time lump sum merit payments.
State documents broadly outline criteria for merit bonuses, with outstanding performance, increased responsibility, and skill set expansion among the considerations.
In a statement to 27 News late Tuesday, Van Hollen stressed DOJ bonuses were awarded as job retention steps and to protect investments in worker training. A DOJ spokesperson has said more than a third of merit-increases went to hard-to-retain DNA analysts.
More than three hundred DOJ staff members were considered for discretionary merit compensation awards, but passed over.
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