Senators call on General Assembly to investigate DHHS raises - WRBL

Senators call on General Assembly to investigate DHHS raises

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Ricky Diaz and Matt McKillip each received a more than 35 percent raise at a time when most other state employees received no raise at all in the state's new two-year budget. Ricky Diaz and Matt McKillip each received a more than 35 percent raise at a time when most other state employees received no raise at all in the state's new two-year budget.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Members of the North Carolina Senate are calling for an investigation into raises for state Department of Health and Human Services employees.

Ricky Diaz and Matt McKillip each received a more than 35 percent raise at a time when most other state employees, like public school teachers, received no raise at all in the state's new two-year budget.

McCrory defended their raises, saying they came as a result of promotions within the department.

"[Diaz] was in my office as a communications person, working as a lower level communications person in the governor's office," McCrory told WNCN's Penn Holderness. "My Health and Human Services Secretary [Aldona Wos] was so impressed with him, she wanted him to move to Health and Human Services and head up that whole process."

Diaz received a 37 percent raise when he was named DHHS communications director, and McKillip was given a 35 percent raise when he was named DHHS chief policy advisor.

But those raises weren't the only ones given at DHHS. Other high-level staffers at DHHS have recently taken in big raises as well.  For example, 35-year-old Jason Simmons, a senior planner, took in a $22,500 pay raise in April, bringing his salary to $62,500.

NC FAST Information Technology Director Anthony Vellucci received a pay raise of more than $23,000 in June, bringing his annual salary to $168,000.

Senate minority leader Martin Nesbitt, Jr. (D- Buncombe), who is on the Health and Human Services Committee, said lawmakers need to take a closer look at what's going on at DHHS. He asked his colleagues to begin looking into the raises there.

"It concerns me when we put a freeze on all of state government to cover Medicaid overruns; and while we're doing that, somebody is giving $1.7 million in raises to people," Nesbitt said. "We've since discovered some are questionable at best, and that department is not functioning anywhere close to properly."

Those departments are the NC FAST and NC TRACKS computer systems, which have been having problems since their launch.

NC Fast was supposed to provide easier access to food stamps and replace the manual paper process. But the transition hasn't been smooth, as reports of backlogs and system failures from county officials are causing concern and outrage among people that need it the most.

Still, the director responsible for improving the way North Carolinians receive their food stamps received a raise of $23,000 in June.

Nesbitt said if lawmakers don't get a handle on the situation at DHHS soon, it will come back to bite the state.

Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger said he will work with democrats to deal with the computer issues at DHHS, but he doesn't think lawmakers should get into how the governor awards raises. Berger said the governor has wide discretion in what he'll pay appointees.

Others say the problem of pay raises for political appointees may be worse under the McCrory administration.

 "The one thing that people don't realize is that the governor has increased the numbers of positions he can appoint by over 1,000," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, Jr. (D-District 20). "You have an opportunity for further political manipulation for state employees."

McKissick said he'd like to see lawmakers look at when these kinds of raises are appropriate.

But because McKillip and Diaz's raises at DHHS involve political positions, there's not much that can be done about those raises, McKissick said.

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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