Weekend open thread: Iowa Board of Regents skirting the law edition

As public sector bad behavior goes, this example may not be as repulsive as a member of Congress from Iowa displaying a Confederate flag on his desk, but prepare to be disgusted by this July 13 story from the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Vanessa Miller:

Board of Regents Executive Director Robert Donley earned $338,466 in salary, bonuses and deferred compensation in the 2015 budget year — more than doubling a salary cap set by the state Legislature and approaching the base salary of the University of Northern Iowa’s president.

The $184,166 that Donley received in 2015 over his base salary of $154,300 was the result of a $5,000 bonus approved in 2014 and $179,166 in payouts from two deferred compensation plans approved in 2012 and in 2013, board spokesman Josh Lehman said. […]

The Legislature years ago capped the board executive director’s base salary at $154,300, although the board began approving $5,000 bonuses for Donley years ago and offered deferred compensation plans in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Donley has a two-year deferred compensation plan worth $125,000 scheduled to pay out in 2016 and a plan worth $140,000 scheduled to pay out in 2017, according to board documents.

The Board of Regents started approving the outlandish extra compensation for Donley soon after Governor Terry Branstad appointed Bruce Rastetter to the board in 2011.

Rastetter can pay his underlings in the private business world whatever he wants, but he doesn’t have the right to ignore state law. A compensation package more than double the salary cap is clearly not consistent with the law’s spirit.

$154,300 a year exceeds the annual income of 80 percent of Iowa households. Any package above $325,066 puts an Iowan in the top 1 percent for income.

The Board of Regents executive director is hardly among the most demanding jobs in state government. If Donley’s not willing to work for the maximum salary allowed for his job, then public-sector employment isn’t for him. I have no doubt that a compensation package within the legal limit could attract a highly qualified and capable person to serve as top staffer for the regents.

Iowa legislators should amend the law, either to forbid state agencies from using bonuses and deferred compensation to exceed salary caps, or to limit bonuses and deferred compensation to a certain percentage of any employee’s base pay. Governor Terry Branstad might not be willing to approve such changes, though, having used bonuses to get around salary caps for economic development director Debi Durham and a few other senior state officials.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.-The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has asked a District Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that five members of the Board of Regents violated Iowa’s open meetings in July 2015. The regents met secretly with Bruce Harreld, whom they were trying to recruit for the University of Iowa’s presidency, in the Ames office of one of Rastetter’s companies. The Attorney General’s Office says the meetings were legal because “No more than two regents met with Harreld at once.” In 1980, the high court held that state law allows a series of private, in-person gatherings of less than a majority of a board’s members. But a divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the law does not permit the use of conduits or “agents” to get around requirements to hold an open meeting whenever a majority of board members deliberate.

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