Highest paid public officials in Georgia

11:43 PM, Oct 2, 2013   |    comments
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WXIA -- You can spin the wheel in the game of life, but to land on this list of top money makers, choose your career wisely.

There's sports. We all know college coaches score financial touchdowns. Mark Richt, the head football coach for UGA reportedly made $2.8 million in 2012. Paul Johnson, the head football coach for Georgia Tech made $2.4 million.

While they are considered public employees, the bulk of their salaries are paid by the school's athletic associations, showing how complicated it can be to determine just how much tax money any given employee is paid.

SEARCH THE 11ALIVE DATABASE | Georgia's top paid public officials City and county data comes in part from the state's survey of salaries.  It reflects the MAXIMUM allowed for the position, which is not always the actual salary paid.

The same is true for many of the university professors that show up among the top paid in the state.

Marketing professor Dr. Viswanathan Kumar made $949,000 in 2012, and accumulated nearly $50,000 in traveling expenses.  Georgia State says at least $400,000 of that came from companies that paid to take specialized classes taught by him.

Still, at a time when many college students are struggling to find ways to pay for the rising tuition burden, the fact the state's top paid employees predominantly work for the University system is frustrating to some.

According to salary data reported to Open Georgia, the average professor made $118,000 last year.  The university defends Kumar's salary, by referencing his five page resume and long list of international accolades, not to mention his eight lifetime achievement awards.

They also cite the prestige and recruitment tool the University acquires from his work with several Fortune 500 companies.  According to a university spokesperson, twelve of his doctoral students have won international recognition for their dissertations.

Outside of the University system, three employees to make the list are Investment Officers with Georgia's Teachers Retirement System. If you're a state employee or teacher, they're the guys that manage your retirement savings. The Chief Investment officer made $616,000 in 2012 to do it.

Executive Director Jeff Ezell, whose name is not on the list, says the salaries are necessary to attract and retain people who are going to give employees a real return on the $70 Billion they've entrusted to the system.

"If you take it in context of the industry that they work in, it's a very fair salary. We're rather unique being a pension plan and having a stand alone investment operation," said Ezell.

CIO Charles Cary makes about twice as much as any CIO in our surrounding states. The closest comparison is North Carolina, where the CIO makes about $320,000. But North Carolina admits, it contracts out most of its stock trades. Ezell says his office does about 85% of it in house, giving the state one of the lowest expense ratios in the country.

Gwinnett County's School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks is also on the list.

Wilbanks heads the largest school district and gets by far, the largest paycheck, nearly $414,000. The district says it's not fair to compare his salary to others in the state because the student population served is smaller.

So we looked at the largest districts in the country. New York City serves 1.1 million students, nearly six as many as Gwinnett. The head of that district, made only $212,000 dollars last year and had access to a car.

The second largest school district in the country, Los Angeles, paid its Superintendent $330,000 including bonuses.

Sabrina Smith leads a coalition of parents questioning the district's spending. She says her group has yet to hear anything from the district justifying Wilbank's salary.

"Any school system with a graduation rate of 69% I think is a school system in crisis and I think that emergency action should be taken," said Smith.

Then, there's Fulton County Tax Commissioner, Arthur Ferdinand, the highest paid elected official in the state.

Governor Deal made $139,000 last year. The county says Arthur Ferdinand made $383,000.

Representative Lynne Riley says he did it, by using legal loopholes to get paid three times for one job. There's his county salary, a fee on property owners who are billed together for their city and county property taxes, and a kickback from debt collectors for handing over the bills that end up past due.

Riley stresses, it's all legal. But she believes it shouldn't be. She's introduced legislation to make his position appointed, and place the money he and other tax commissioners currently personally pocket, into the county's general fund.

*HOW WE OBTAINED THE DATA: The Help Desk pulled together city and county data from open records requests and the state's Salary and Wage yearly survey.  The state data reflects the MAXIMUM salary allowed for each position, which 11Alive has learned can be very different than the actual salary paid.  The maximum salary allowed for the City Manager in Jefferson is reported at $175,000.  His actual salary is $98,400.  State salaries also reflect total income compensation, which may have been paid in part by sources outside of taxpayer dollars.

N/A means we do not have any data for that position, the position does not exist, or was vacant in 2012.  Open Records requests have been filed with Clayton County, as well as the cities of Lawrenceville and  Atlanta, but we have yet to receive any information.

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WHERE WE OBTAINED THE DATA: The Help Desk pulled together the city and county data came from open records requests and the state's Salary and Wage yearly survey.  N/A means the city or county either did not provide data for that position or that the position does not exist in that community.  Clayton and DeKalb counties, as well as Atlanta and Lawrenceville have yet to provide 11Alive with their data.
WHERE WE OBTAINED THE DATA: The Help Desk pulled together the city and county data came from open records requests and the state's Salary and Wage yearly survey.  N/A means the city or county either did not provide data for that position or that the position does not exist in that community.  Clayton and DeKalb counties, as well as Atlanta and Lawrenceville have yet to provide 11Alive with their data.

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