A legislative subcommittee on Thursday endorsed the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's request to increase the maximum-authorized salary of its director from $132,729 to $152,638 next fiscal year, although there are no immediate plans to give him a raise.
In a voice vote with one dissent, the Joint Budget Committee's Personnel Subcommittee recommended the Joint Budget Committee add this proposed increase in the Game and Fish director's maximum-authorized salary to the commission's operations bill -- Senate Bill 12 -- for fiscal 2019, which starts July 1.
Commission Director Pat Fitts' salary is $132,729 in fiscal 2018, which ends June 30, according to the Arkansas Transparency website. Game and Fish commissioners appointed Fitts, who had served as assistant deputy director, as director, effective Jan. 1.
Commissioner Andrew Parker said the commission "felt like, in light of the fact that we had just come through a search and a selection of a new director, in looking at the aspects of that, this is one that it was very obvious that we felt like needed to be changed.
"It is specifically not the intention of the commission to raise the director's position at this time," he told the subcommittee. "But there is an interest in that opportunity existing if something were to happen to the director."
He said, "If we had 30 candidates, I am not sure we would have made another selection."
Fitts has worked at the agency for 29 years. He started work in a fish hatchery, became a biologist and a law enforcement officer, and eventually worked his way into the administrative operations.
He "was in position to be an excellent choice for being a director. I don't believe a scenario exists that that will happen again," Parker said.
Parker said there are several state agency directors that have maximum-authorized salaries greater than that of the Game and Fish director and they are paid more than him, too.
"In our continued retention and recruitment, we are not in as good a position that we should be for the massive responsibility that this director has over a variety of different program areas," he said.
Under questioning by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, Parker said the salary was a factor in the search for a new director among the wildlife agencies in other states and among candidates in Arkansas because of the position's level of demand, scrutiny and variety of responsibilities.
He pointed out that the directors of the state Department of Information Systems and the Arkansas State Police are paid salaries similar to what the commission is requesting for its director, while the state Department of Transportation director is paid considerably more.
Information Services Director Yessica Jones and the state police director, Col. Bill Bryant, are each paid $149,862 a year, while transportation agency Director Scott Bennett's salary is $208,572, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.
Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie is paid $282,800 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.
Parker said the Department of Human Services "obviously has a significantly larger footprint than what Game and Fish has if we had all employees' [positions] filled."
He said the state police director is probably the most similar post to the Game and Fish director, and that director is paid close to what the commission is seeking for the maximum salary.
The Game and Fish Commission has 625 authorized positions and 579 employees, while the Arkansas State Police has 1,094 authorized positions and 926 employees. The Department of Information Services has 263 authorized positions and 194 employees based on state records, said Tony Robinson, personnel review administrator for the Bureau of Legislative Research.
The Department of Human Services has 8,317 authorized positions and 7,396 employees, while the Department of Transportation has 4,712 authorized positions and 3,755 employees, Robinson said.
A subcommittee co-chairman, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said the average annual salary for the director of a fish and wildlife agency in the Southern region is about $135,000.
Meanwhile, two legislators proposed significant cuts in the maximum-authorized salaries for the directors of the Department of Transportation and of the Department of Environmental Quality. The Joint Budget Committee took no action on the proposals Thursday morning.
Rep. Fran Cavenaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, has proposed an amendment to House Bill 1077 -- the Department of Transportation's operations appropriation for fiscal 2019 -- that would reduce the maximum-authorized salary for the director from $219,013 to $30,000 a year.
Cavenaugh said in an interview that she proposed cutting Bennett's salary to $30,000 a year because she has 30,000 constituents in her House district "who want their voice to be heard." She said she wants rural Arkansans to have a seat "at the table" when the department determines the state's transportation priorities and she plans to meet with department officials about her concerns, she said. She said she didn't propose her amendment to get funding for any particular project.
Department spokesman Danny Straessle declined to comment about Cavenaugh's proposal.
Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, has proposed an amendment to House Bill 1084 -- the Department of Environmental Quality's operations appropriation -- that would change the department's director post from an SE03 classification to a GS01 position under the state's pay plan. The maximum-authorized salary for an SE03 position is $167,2000 and the maximum salary for a GS01 position is $31,900, according to Robinson. Department Director Becky Keogh's salary is $134,406 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.
Vaught could not be reached for comment by telephone or email about her proposed amendment on Thursday afternoon. Department spokesman Donnally Davis declined to comment about Vaught's proposal on Thursday afternoon.
Metro on 02/16/2018