Retention Bonuses and Cabinet Appointments

Remember those Jack Dalrymple retention bonuses during the 2013-2015 biennium? The rather large bonuses given out to his staff to the sum of approximately $100,000 caused a bit of a stink across the state. Legislators from both parties pushed back on the decision claiming these bonuses were excessive. During the GOP Gubernatorial primary, both Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Burgum said they probably would not have given out these bonuses during a time when the rest of the state budget was starting to slide.

It wasn’t just Dalrymple’s staff that was given tens of thousands of dollars to retain their position. Two cabinet members also received large bonuses. Maggie Anderson, Director of the Department of Human Services, received $27,692. Pam Sharp, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, was awarded $30,518. Dalrymple said these were necessary because they might leave.

Well, yesterday Doug Burgum announced his cabinet where he chose to keep eleven of the seventeen members from the Dalrymple cabinet. After campaigning on term limits and breaking up the good old boys network, he helped get many of the “career politicians” reelected, and now he kept many of the bureaucratic members of the previous administration. Hardly an “outsider” who is “shaking things up” if you ask me.

Two of the people Burgum told would keep a job in his administration? You guessed it, Pam Sharp and Maggie Anderson who collectively received a $58,000 taxpayer bonus. Anderson will be interim Director of DHS and then shift over to overseeing Medicaid. According to the Bismarck Tribune, “Anderson said she’d decided when the medical services director role opened up recently she would want to move into that position.” If I recall, the previous medical services director left her post during the 2015 legislative session. Anderson basically took over that role in her absence. If that is the case, the decision by Anderson to stay in state government would have been made before Dalrymple gave out $27,692 to “retain” her services.

Burgum emphasized zero-based budgeting during his campaign. This would be a break from tradition. If that is the case, why would he keep Pam Sharp who has overseen the state budget since the Hoeven administration? Routinely, the forecasts under Sharp have been off by hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve said before that if it was a private sector business and projections came back that far off the person in charge would be fired. Burgum, the guy who wants to run state government like a business, seems to disagree.

I bring up the retention bonuses because at the time they were given out, I didn’t think it was really about “retaining” these individuals. It was a reward for being so loyal to the good old boys network. You may disagree and say the bonuses did exactly what they were intended for. I guess I’m more cynical. However, I never thought many of these individuals actually wanted to leave the cozy political appointed jobs they had. With Burgum many of them don’t need to.

Tyler Axness
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