Oklahoma Tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass was granted a $40,000 pay increase last week, making her the latest of several state agency heads to be awarded five-digit salary increases and sparking criticism from the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
Tom Dunning, communications coordinator for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the raises are frustrating to rank-and-file state employees — many of whom have gone years without raises and been told by lawmakers that they would have to await the results of a compensation study due out in November before they would be given pay hike consideration.
“These raises should only happen after the study is released and the state begins addressing front line staff pay,” Dunning said. “Raising top administrators' pay while their staff waits sends a message to staff that the top jobs are important and the other jobs are not. This just further demoralizes state agency staff, many of whom have not had a raise in years.”
Besides Snodgrass, other state agency heads confirmed by The Oklahoman to have received large pay increases this year include Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Director Stan Florence, whose pay was increased by nearly $47,000 in June; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner Terri White, whose salary was raised by nearly $40,000 in September; and state Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson, whose salary was raised by about $14,000 in May.
Florence's salary went from $80,138 to $127,000, White's salary rose from $133,455 to $173,318, and Thompson's salary went from $137,239 to about $151,000.
In addition, the salary of Oklahoma's secretary of state was raised from $90,000 to $140,000 when Gov. Mary Fallin announced last week that she had appointed former House Speaker Chris Benge to succeed Larry Parman in that position, said Michael McNutt, the governor's press secretary.
It is unclear how many other state agency heads may have received large pay increases because agencies are not required to report the pay hikes to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services until August, said John Estus, spokesman for that agency.
The Tourism Commission voted 5-2 last week to raise Snodgrass' salary from about $86,000 to $126,508.
Snodgrass said she was grateful for the raise.
“I am humbled and grateful to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commissioners for the trust and faith they have placed in me,” she said. “They have decided to increase my compensation to the midpoint established in the OMES Human Capital Management Division's Agency Director Salary Review.”
“Tourism is a $7.1 billion industry in Oklahoma and continues to experience significant growth, year over year. It is the state's third-largest industry. I am honored to serve in this position and help fine tune this vital economic engine so the industry can go further and faster toward revenue increases and job growth that benefits all Oklahomans.”
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb cast one of the two votes against the pay increase. Lamb, who serves as chairman of the commission, said his vote was “no reflection on the job of the director or the tourism staff.”
“They work very hard for the people, but I believe we should be very diligent in how we spend taxpayers' money,” Lamb said. “At this time with our state budget, and also with the current study that is taking place … with all the state employees, that gave me a little pause. And a greater pause and concern that I have is that we're currently in the middle of a state trooper shortage … and the trooper pay in the state is significantly low compared to the region.”