Madison — Gov. Scott Walker’s administration rewarded the new hardline Capitol Police chief and his top deputy with double-digit pay raises earlier this year after moving the pair on paper to phantom jobs for two weeks and then back to their real posts.
Chief Dave Erwin — who has overseen a crackdown on Walker protesters at the statehouse — received an overall salary hike of 11.7%, to $111,067 a year, the same rate as his predecessor. That amounts to an $11,680 annual raise.
That hefty raise was possible only because Walker officials transferred Erwin on Feb. 5 to a ghostposition in the state Department of Administration, according to a copy of the transfer letter obtained by the Journal Sentinel. Then, on the same day, he was shuffled back to his real job as head of the Capitol Police force.
Each of the moves, backdated to earlier in the fiscal year, came with a retroactive boost in pay for Erwin. Under state rules, the chief is a civil servant, not a political appointee.
Peter Fox — who served as employment relations secretary under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican — said the moves were legal but a “charade” performed for favored employees. Fox said he was basing his comments on what he knew of state practices from his tenure more than a decade ago.
“I believe it was done while I was secretary, but I didn’t like it,” Fox said of such transfers. “It was technically permissible, but in my personal opinion, it violated the spirit of fairness and equity in the civil service system….For the average civil servant, this kind of thing isn’t available.”
Walker officials took similar steps to skirt civil service salary limits for Deputy Police Chief Dan Blackdeer. His pay jumped by 14.6%, to $96,048, on June 16.
Rank-and-file state workers received a 1% general pay raise in July, the first general increase in four years for most employees, and they are scheduled to receive another 1% raise in July 2014.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said that since Erwin and Blackdeer are considered civil servants, neither could have received such a large pay increase without the paper transfers. She said both men remained in their police roles and did not work in the jobs to which they were supposedly transferred.
“That’s the only way they could do it in the civil service system,” Marquis said. “It’s not like the private sector where you just give someone a pay increase.”
Walker’s staff said the governor had no hand in authorizing Erwin’s salary increase.
“Chief Erwin’s position is a DOA civil service position and, obviously, any personnel decisions about DOA civil servants are made by DOA,” said Walker aide Jocelyn Webster.
Erwin’s pay increases, Marquis said, reflected the division’s strong performance under his leadership, including the arrest of a potential fire-bomber in January. She noted that Erwin had taken on new duties such as implementing a workplace security and training program for legislative aides and other Capitol employees.
Marquis said Blackdeer has taken on new responsibilities as well, including improved coordination of security at other state facilities. He also performed exceptionally in helping ensure the safety of staff and crowds during the massive labor protests of 2011 and has advised other police departments around the country on the lessons learned from that experience, she said.
Marquis said the raise for Erwin also reflected a mistake made when the Capitol Police chief’s job was posted for candidates with a maximum annual salary of $99,387. The previous chief, Charles Tubbs, had made $111,067 per year.
Tubbs had come under fire from some Republicans such as Rep. Steve Nass of Whitewater for what they considered to be his kid-glove treatment of anti-Walker demonstrators at the Capitol.
When Erwin was hired on July 23, 2012, he was promised a salary increase because of the posting mistake once he had finished his six-month probation, Marquis said.
The pay increase was approved Feb. 5. That same day Erwin received two letters from Wendy Coomer, the No. 3 official at the state Department of Administration.
The first letter informed him that as of Dec. 30 he had been reassigned to be an administrative manager in the Division of Enterprise Operations, a different area of DOA that oversees purchasing for the state as well as its fleet of cars and airplanes. The second letter told Erwin that he had been transferred back to his role as chief as of Jan. 13.
Each position came with a raise, and Erwin received a retroactive increase in his pay as a result.
Marquis said DOA staff had failed to grant Erwin’s raise at the six-month mark. The retroactive transfers and raises were done, she said, to keep him from losing any of that pay.
“It’s made retroactive to keep the promise,” Marquis said.
Susan Crawford, former chief legal counsel for Doyle, said Erwin’s transfers looked highly unusual. She called it “a sham transaction for the sole purpose of giving Chief Erwin a raise.”
“Chief Erwin is, in my opinion, a highly qualified law enforcement officer and very well-qualified to serve as a police chief,” said Crawford, now an attorney with the Madison firm of Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach. “That does not necessarily mean he is well-qualified to manage state enterprise operations programs.”
Other politicians of both parties — including Doyle — have made use of their own job transfers to benefit favored employees.
The Journal Sentinel, for instance, reported in January 2011 about Doyle political appointees who were transferred into protected civil service positions in the final days of the governor’s term in 2010.
Marquis pointed to an internal DOA memo supporting the pay increases that found that some police chiefs leading much larger departments in the Madison area made more than Erwin. For instance, the memo said, University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling is paid at $175,000 a year, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray at $135,000 and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney at $124,300.
The Capitol Police employs 51 full-time officers and staff. The UW-Madison police has 144 staffers and the Madison police and Dane County sheriff’s office each employs more than 500.
The memo does not list State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald, who oversees hundreds of employees and makes $106,700 annually, which is less than Erwin’s salary. Marquis said she didn’t know enough about Fitzgerald’s job to say whether it’s comparable.
Blackdeer, who served as acting chief until Erwin was selected, has been part of the Capitol Police for more than two decades, having been the deputy chief under both Doyle and Walker.
Marquis said Blackdeer was informed in a May 24 letter that he was being transferred laterally into a job as a policy initiatives adviser with the Division of Enterprise Operations and given a raise on June 2. On June 16, he was transferred back to his old job and given another raise.
Those raises and transfers were approved in advance and there was no retroactive pay, Marquis said.
Under Erwin, police have stepped up arrests of Walker protesters who won’t take out a permit, with the first crackdown taking place nearly a year ago and the other beginning late last month.
Between July 24 and Aug. 6, police issued about 125 citations to individuals involved in the protests. Almost all of the tickets were for assembling without a permit.
The demonstrators have argued that they have a constitutional right to demonstrate without one.
In a recent ruling in an ongoing case, however, a federal judge struck down a part of the state’s permitting rule but left in place the overall regulation requiring the permit.
Marquis said the raises weren’t related to the increased arrests.
“As with other police, they’re there to uphold the law,” Marquis said.
“There’s no merit to that allegation.”