Job offer prompted 33% pay raise for Winthrop police chief

05/20/2014 8:48 PM

03/03/2015 5:33 PM

A job offer from a much larger college prompted the 33 percent raise Winthrop University officials gave their police chief in March, school officials told The Herald.

The $27,442 pay hike brought Chief Frank Zebedis’ salary to $110,000.

Zebedis – who has served as chief of Winthrop’s Campus Police Department since 1998 – also was promoted to assistant vice president, which makes him second-in-command over the school’s student life division.

Earlier this month, several Winthrop trustees expressed surprise and concern when they learned of pay raises and promotions for members of President Jamie Comstock Williamson’s senior staff, including Zebedis. Next month, they could vote to give themselves more direct oversight over future employee raises.

In total, 88 Winthrop employees saw raises, totaling $576,000. Williamson directly approved 14 of those, including Zebedis’. Others were approved by other university officials.

About a month before Williamson approved his raise, Zebedis told The Herald this week, he had applied to be police chief at Mississippi State University. He was given a written offer after an interview and visit with school officials in Starkville, he said.

Zebedis is “top-notch,” Williamson said, and keeping him at Winthrop was important for all aspects of the university.

Efforts to reach Mississippi State officials have been unsuccessful over the past week.

When he applied in February for the Mississippi State job, Zebedis said, he wasn’t actively looking to leave Winthrop. Someone told him about the vacancy and said it might be a good fit and opportunity, he said.

Mississippi State, with more than 20,000 students and nearly 5,000 employees, is more than three times bigger than Winthrop, which has about 6,000 students and about 1,300 employees.

The Mississippi State police department employs nearly twice as many police officers, Zebedis said, and its operating budget is nearly three times as large as Winthrop’s Campus Police.

Working at a larger school has some benefits, and the job offer was appealing, Zebedis said, but he wanted to stay at Winthrop. Since becoming chief, Zebedis has led Winthrop Police through many changes, and there are more improvements he wants to be part of, he said Tuesday.

That Winthrop was willing to retain him as chief instead of losing him to another school meant a lot, Zebedis said.

“I was very impressed with that commitment,” he said.

Zebedis said he didn’t use Mississippi State’s offer as an ultimatum or as leverage to get a promotion or more money. If he had accepted the job, he said, he would have been paid more at Mississippi State than what he’s making now with the promotion and raise at Winthrop.

Zebedis first applied for the Mississippi State job in February and immediately heard from university officials that they were interested in interviewing him, he said. He later told Winthrop police department staff and Frank Ardaiolo, Winthrop’s vice president of student life, about the job opportunity.

Ardaiolo worked with Winthrop’s human resources office to determine what could be done, Williamson told The Herald this week. To determine whether a raise was appropriate, she said, officials studied what Zebedis’ counterparts at other universities earned.

Clemson University’s police chief is paid $103,132 – about $7,000 less than Zebedis – according to state employee salary data from 2013, the most recent information available.

At the University of South Carolina, the state’s largest university, the associate vice president for law enforcement and campus safety is paid $165,000, records show.

State records show that most campus law enforcement leaders at South Carolina public colleges make less than $100,000, including:

• Coastal Carolina University’s chief, $96,387
• Lander University’s chief, $61,440.
• The Citadel’s director of public safety, $58,721

While officials considered how best to retain Zebedis, Williamson said, other organizational changes to the student life division were ongoing. The processes overlapped, she said, and it was a good decision to promote Zebedis and increase his pay.

It’s not surprising that other schools or organizations would be interested in recruiting Zebedis, she said. His national reputation in law enforcement and campus safety, she said, makes him a desirable leader.

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