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University execs’ deferred pay, often hidden, tops $7 million
When Wayne Clough left for the Smithsonian last year, he drove off from Georgia Tech with $1.8 million in deferred pay, behind the wheel of a 2007 Lexus hybrid SUV given to him by the school’s foundation.
Carl Patton got a similarly sweet seven-figure deal in January when he retired from Georgia State University.
And UGA president Michael Adams has at least $1.5 million in deferred pay waiting whenever he moves on — half of it residing with the foundation that tried to dump him five years ago.
All told, presidents of seven Georgia universities and the current and former chancellors have collected or accrued more than $7 million since 2004 in deferred compensation, Atlanta Unfiltered has found in a review of payroll records, tax forms and financial statements.
News of the deferred compensation comes as state universities struggle with cost-cutting that has eliminated hundreds of jobs and furloughed virtually all employees for six days or more this year without pay. Officials say the deferred pay is considered a flat amount and is not reduced by the furlough days.
As a practical matter, much of the deferred pay is hidden from public view.
A summary of presidents’ state-paid salaries is available for the asking from the University System’s press office. But that’s if you know who to ask. And it overlooks millions of dollars held by private foundations that have historically paid for perks and salary supplements.
Carl Patton pocketed $412,000 in fiscal year 2008 in salary and benefits, according to www.Open.Georgia.Gov — the State Auditor’s official source for information on state employees’ pay. But records show Patton was collecting an additional $300,000 a year in deferred pay, not counting his pension, that the Open Georgia Web site does not disclose.
By the time Patton stepped down in 2008, the state had paid him $1.66 million in deferred salary — information that is unavailable on Open Georgia. (Patton’s successor, Mark Becker, receives no deferred compensation, officials say.)
At Macon State College, Open Georgia reported President David Bell earned $212,409 in fiscal year 2008. But the state paid him another $33,333 a year in deferred compensation, records show, and the college’s foundation has chipped in $400,000 more, payable in January 2010.
Nor does Open Georgia report deferred pay of $30,000 a year for Kennesaw State’s Dan Papp (rising to $50,000 in 2010) or $30,000 a year for Beheruz Sethna at the University of West Georgia.
State auditors ask that agencies report deferred compensation each year, as it accrues, as part of the total pay for affected employees. (Open Georgia lists salaries for the presidents of UGA, the Medical College of Georgia and West Georgia University that appear to include deferred amounts.)
But some universities haven’t done that. Several don’t report deferred pay to the auditors until the money is actually handed over to the president.
“Somebody has to actually get a check for it to appear,” said John Millsaps, the University System’s associate vice chancellor for media and publications.
Auditors rely on reporting agencies for accuracy. “We do not test it in order to determine the validity of what they submit,” said Claire Arnold, the State Auditor’s manager over colleges and universities.
Open Georgia also does not report deferred pay held by several foundations that support universities, since it’s not taxpayer money.
Sometimes, even the foundations aren’t clear about past payments for deferred compensation. Financial statements for the University System of Georgia Foundation show $271,453 spent on deferred compensation for the three fiscal years spanning most of Chancellor Thomas Meredith’s tenure. But executive director Candace Sommers earlier today was still trying to track down records that would show who collected that deferred pay.
With staff turnover and a recent change in bookkeeping software, Sommers said, “researching such information can be challenging.”
All this means Georgia taxpayers can’t get a clear sense of executive compensation in the University System without digging through audited financial statements or payroll records.
Until 2004, foundations supporting several Georgia universities paid these salary supplements. The State Board of Regents ended the practice in the wake of a nasty battle between Adams and the UGA Foundation, which threatened to dock his pay because trustees blamed him for running off beloved ex-coach and athletic director Vince Dooley.
Since then, the state has taken responsibility for all salary payments. But the new policy does not affect certain perks or money that foundations had already set aside for presidents’ deferred pay.
Here’s how much university presidents have accumulated or collected in deferred pay since 2004, according to records provided by the University System, tax returns and financial statements. The figures reflect payments or set-asides of state money and, where known, of funds from a school’s associated foundation.
$1,820,697 — Wayne Clough, former Georgia Tech president (includes $500,000 cash, a $38,000 car and a split-dollar life insurance policy valued at $750,000 from the foundation)
$1,666,639 — Carl Patton, retired Georgia State University president
$495,990 — Thomas Meredith, former University System chancellor (includes $180,990 from the University System of Georgia Foundation)
$480,000 — Daniel Rahn, Medical College of Georgia president
$262,500 — Erroll B. Davis Jr., University System chancellor
$127,000 — Beheruz Sethna, University of West Georgia president
$90,000 — Dan Papp, Kennesaw State University foundation
$75,000 — Bud Peterson, Georgia Tech president since April 1
$7,191,432 — Total
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