May 9, 2014

Winthrop trustees discuss pay raises

Winthrop University trustees emerged from executive session on Friday afternoon saying that, in light of recent pay raises that reached up to 33 percent salary hikes, they are moving toward a new board policy that will give them oversight over future raises.

Winthrop University trustees emerged from executive session during Friday’s board meeting saying that in light of recent pay raises reaching up to 33 percent, they are moving toward a new board policy that will give them oversight over future raises.

Friday’s closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees and Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson came after board members recently learned of several salary increases – two of which exceeded $20,000 – approved by the president.

Earlier this week, trustees told The Herald they were not told about the pay raises before the raises were approved. Trustee Glenn McCall said he thought Williamson should have notified the board, although trustees are not required to vote on Winthrop employee salaries.

After Friday’s meeting, board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham said the recent pay raises were discussed in executive session, adding, “The board and the president felt very comfortable with this new direction,” she said.

The policy change will likely require a board bylaws amendment which could be approved as early as June. It’s expected that board members will also consider other bylaws changes then.

A new board policy related to employee pay raises could address what McCall said is a need for “checks and balances” at Winthrop. His comments came this week after he learned that Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis received a 33 percent raise and Athletic Director Tom Hickman received a 22 percent pay increase.

Until this year, public colleges had to seek state approval for raises of 15 percent or more. Schools now have authority over salary increases, with some regulation of compensation levels.

University officials have said Zebedis and Hickman are receiving higher pay because they’ve recently taken on more duties. Zebedis was promoted to assistant vice president this year and Hickman was recently named to Williamson’s president’s advisory council – a senior leadership team.

Zebedis, who has been Winthrop’s police chief since 1998, is paid $110,000. Hickman, who has served as athletic director for 25 years, is paid $144,000.

Raises were approved after Winthrop officials studied what Zebedis’ and Hickman’s counterparts make at other schools, said Jeff Perez, university spokesman, earlier this week.

Future board talks will be public

The reason for going into executive session on Friday was to discuss “specific employee salaries and raises,” said board Vice Chairman Karl Folkens. “And (to discuss) whether processes should be in place for trustee review and approval of such salaries and/or raises in the future.”

Board members did not vote on the issue after the meeting.

State law requires that public bodies, such as university boards, hold all votes in public session. The Freedom of Information Act of South Carolina allows boards to hold executive session for some discussions related to personnel matters, contracts and to receive legal advice.

Winthrop’s board held part of its Friday meeting in public session but members did not discuss the recent pay raises until entering executive session.

Winthrop trustees are aware of other universities that have compensation committees to review some employee raises, Folkens said. It’s possible that board members could approve a similar model, he said.

Discussion of related policy changes, he said, will take place in public sessions of future board meetings.

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