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In final months, Wilson gave staff $119K in perks



Published: Sun, March 27, 2011 @ 12:10 a.m.

photo

Charlie Wilson

BONUS PAY

U.S. House staff members

Below are the Ohio members of the U.S. House who most increased their staff payroll from the third quarter (July to September) to the fourth quarter (October to December) of 2010, by percentage.

Charlie Wilson, D-6th, lost re-election, 49.77 percent.

Tim Ryan, D-17th, re-elected, 38.72 percent.

John Boccieri, D-16th, lost re-election, 36.44 percent.

Marcia Fudge, D-11th, re-elected, 31.39 percent.

Steven C. LaTourette, R-14th, re-elected, 28 percent.

Source: LegiStorm.com

By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

As parting gifts to his 21 staff members who lost their jobs because he wasn’t re-elected, ex-U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson gave a total of $119,129 in salary increases and bonuses.

The 49.77 percent increase was given by Wilson, a Democrat from St. Clairsville, during the final three months of 2010 compared with the year’s third quarter, July to September, according to information compiled by LegiStorm.com, a political website that monitors congressional spending.

The increase was the most by any of Ohio’s 18 members of the U.S. House in 2010 in total dollars and percentage. Among all 435 House members, Wilson’s staff salary percentage increase was the 27th highest.

“They had weeks of vacation time they hadn’t used,” Wilson said. “We paid them for that.”

Wilson, who served six years in the House, said he “didn’t specifically handle” the staff salary increases and bonuses.

That was the responsibility, he said, of Candace Bryan Abbey, his chief of staff.

Repeated attempts by The Vindicator to contact Abbey — whose quarterly salary jumped from $37,250 for July to September to $40,485 for October to December — were unsuccessful.

Nearly two-thirds of last year’s fourth quarter came after Wilson was defeated by Republican Bill Johnson of Poland.

Also, Wilson’s Washington, D.C., office and those of other defeated incumbents were closed in mid-December, leaving a skeletal staff left to run them.

Among the biggest quarterly salary increases for Wilson were for Hillary Wicai Viers, communications director, from $20,125 to $30,208; John Payne, a caseworker and former director of the Columbiana County Board of Elections, from $13,000 to $19,333; Joan N. Gregory, legislative director, from $18,250 to $27,417; and Dennis Johnson, congressional liaison and Columbiana County Democratic Party chairman, from $16,125 to $24,208.

Also, they each received $1,000 bonuses.

In all, 16 of Wilson’s 21 staff members received $1,000 bonuses with two others receiving $500 each.

Overall, LegiStorm.com reported that nearly one in 10 House members paid at least six-figure bonuses to their staffs with most going to the staffs of defeated or retired members.

Former U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, a Democrat from Alliance who used to live in and represent Mahoning County in the state Legislature, was No. 3 among Ohio’s 18 House members — and 79th overall in the House — with a 36.44 percent increase in staff salaries from 2010’s third quarter to its fourth quarter. His staff-salary expenditures went from $181,315 to $266,876.

“When you lose, you have to pay vacation time and comp time and a little bonus for all the hard work they did over the two years I was in Congress,” Boccieri said of his staff.

Most of the salary increases for Boccieri’s staff were between $2,000 and $4,000.

Asked why he didn’t get rid of most of his D.C. staff when they had to vacate his office in mid-December, Boccieri said, “So you think we should’ve dropped them a week before Christmas when they were scheduled to be done the week after?”

Each member of Congress receives federal money for staff salaries, office expenses, mail to constituents and travel. Money that isn’t spent is returned to the federal government.

It wasn’t just outgoing members at the top of the list of staff salary increases.

At No. 2 in Ohio — and 68th overall in the House — is U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who was elected last November to his sixth two-year term.

Ryan’s quarter-to-quarter increase was 38.72 percent, $94,514 more given to his staff in the last three months of 2010 compared to the July-to-September period.

Bonus payments to staffers in the fourth quarter isn’t uncommon to Ryan. He gave six-figure increases to his staff in the fourth quarters of 2009, 2008 and 2006.

“The congressman gives merit pay in the last quarter,” said Patrick Lowry, his district press secretary, whose salary increased from $16,874 in 2010’s third quarter to $21,374 in the fourth quarter. “We’ve had less turnover of staff than most offices [partly because of merit pay increases.] A number of us have been here since the beginning. Merit pay at the end of the year has been a common practice for the congressman since he’s been in office” since January 2003.

U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Bainbridge, R-14th, also gives merit pay to his staff, about $70,000 to $80,000 overall each year in the fourth quarter. He currently has 18 employees.

LaTourette, a nine-term incumbent, was No. 5 in Ohio — and 130th overall in the House — in 2010 with a 28 percent increase, $74,181 more given to his staff between the third and fourth quarters.

In a prepared written statement, LaTourette said: “I am mindful we’re doing the taxpayers’ work, and that’s why I’ve returned more than $1 million I didn’t use to run my office, often about $100,000 each year. Some others might spend every nickel and dime they receive. I invest in a hard-working, responsive staff, shun costly, taxpayer-funded promotional mailings and try to fly in and out of Baltimore because flights are one-quarter the cost of flying out of [Ronald Reagan Washington] National [airport] in D.C.”

Ex-U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper of Erie, Pa., a one-term member representing her state’s 3rd District, was No. 3 in the entire House in bonuses, a 111.62 percent increase, $194,559 in pay hikes to her staff as she was leaving office.

The staff salary of Dahlkemper, a Democrat, jumped from $197,960 in 2010’s third quarter to $404,846 in the fourt h quarter.

Some of her employees had their salaries nearly triple. For example, the salary of Chanel Monet Cook, a constituent services representative, went from $8,250 in the third quarter to $24,044 in the fourth.

Dahlkemper and Tina M. Mengine, her chief of staff, couldn’t be reached by the newspaper to comment.


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