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More money, bigger salaries under new legislation for OIT

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Legislation to create a standalone agency under the auspices of the Office of Information Technology (OIT) is being aggressively pushed by Gov. Robert Bentley, even though OIT has repeatedly shown itself incompetent in its management of the STARRS accounting system, eStart time and attendance software, CARES system that facilitates Medicaid, CHiPs services for the State’s children, disabled and poor. There are other mismanagement issues but these are big ones.

Beyond the lingering failures, there is still the question of Dr. Joanne Hale being paid by the University of Alabama which seems to defy the Ethic Commission’s opinion on Executives on Loan.

If SB219 becomes law, it will call for a new salary structure at OIT that is predicted to be much higher than those currently paid other state-employed technology staff.

Hale’s compensation is $220,000 annually plus tenure and benefits paid by the University. Her second-in-command, Deputy Secretary Cheri Martin, presently earns over $126,000 annually, and received a raise in March 2016. Calculating salary and benefits, the top two individuals at OIT cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars, with little or nothing to show from their efforts.

The code of Alabama has some definite language under which an agency head reporting to the Governor must adhere according to statue. For example: Alabama Code Title 41-4-30 states: “The Director of Finance shall devote full time to his office and shall not hold another office under the government of the United States, or under any other state, or of this state or any political subdivision thereof, during his incumbency in such office, and he shall not hold any position of trust or profit or engage in any occupation or business, the conduct of which shall interfere or be inconsistent with the performance of his duties as Director of Finance.” This language appears throughout many cabinet level agencies, and clearly, states only one job at a time.

This restrictive language stating that a cabinet level agency head cannot hold two jobs doesn’t seem to appears in the OIT bill. SB219 would appear to be an aberration. Why?

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The legislation to establish the new entity includes a large number of salary exemptions, which gives the OIT Secretary Dr. Hale or her replacement broad discretion in how much these individuals are paid. The bill reads, “Employees of the office in the exempt service shall serve at the pleasure of the secretary and, notwithstanding Section 36-6-6, shall receive salaries to be determined by the secretary.”

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The following positions are exempt:

(1) Up to four deputy secretaries.

(2) Up to 12 highly-trained, highly-specialized information technology professionals.

(3) Director of Broadband Development.

By comparison, the Alabama Department of Transportation employs over 4000 workers but has only five exempt positions. Why is it that OIT, which is a fraction of that size, require so many exceptions?

At present, OIT has paid for a new classification study which would create new job classifications, including some that just happen to match existing OIT positions and salaries currently being paid. According to those with insider knowledge, these OIT salaries will be grandfathered into the new job classifications.

According to numerous individuals, OIT is hurriedly filling several senior positions to bring them in under the grandfather clause.

Merit employees will retain their jobs but have been informed that pay increases are not in the plan.

As one insider wondered, “They (OIT) haven’t completed one project, so why is the Governor so determined to give them more money and greater autonomy?”

That is a question the Legislature should answer before passing SB219.

Third in this series will ask how is OIT’s being fund now?

Current statute states OIT may, “(S)olicit, receive, administer funds, goods, services to be used for the purchase of computers, satellites, hardware, software or other technology equipment and services.”

So where is OIT’s coming from?

More to come in this ongoing saga.

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