Ann Bishop was already the highest paid executive officer in state government as director of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, according to a state auditor’s report.
But shortly before Gov. Rick Perry announced she would become his chief of staff late last year — a post she held only briefly before returning to ERS — agency records indicate she received something of a parting gift: a $162,500 bonus.
Now, a legislator who is examining high executive salaries in state government says such payments should come to an end.
“This is something you see in the private sector, not state government,” state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, co-chairwoman of the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, told the Texas Tribune.
ERS spokeswoman Mary Jane Wardlow confirmed the bonus payment, which was approved by the agency's board of trustees, but said early Thursday she had not yet heard of Alvarado's concerns and was unable to offer comment.
Perry announced on Nov. 27 that Bishop, director of ERS since 2004, would become his chief of staff effective Dec. 3. The state auditor’s report from August 2012 showed she was earning an annual salary of $312,000 as of mid-year 2012, making her the highest paid executive officer among all the state agencies. The 2012 report noted she was also paid a “one-time bonus” of $26,000 in 2011.
Wardlow said the trustees approved the 2012 bonus in open meeting in late September and that it was tied, in part, to the investment performance of the ERS fund. According to information compiled by the office of State Auditor John Keel, the bonus was paid to Bishop in November, the same month she took the job with Perry. Wardlow said the check was likely cut on Nov. 1.
Bishop did not stay at the governor's office for very long. She returned to her old job, which had been left open for her, late last month.
ERS had posted an undated news release explaining that Bishop had merely taken a temporary leave of absence to work for Perry — a “sabbatical” — and would return to her job at some point, according to a blog post by the Dallas Morning News.
The link to that news release was disabled after Bishop returned to the retirement agency, Wardlow said.
Alvarado, the Houston representiative, said the bonus and high salary paid to Bishop are evidence that executive compensation needs to be reined in. She said she wants the House Transparency panel to hold a special meeting on that subject.
She said data provided to the committee shows "huge disparities" among various high-ranking executives, and she questioned whether the state should be paying out such large salaries and bonuses at a time when government leaders are calling on agencies to cut back.
“I don’t know who is monitioring this. It’s out of control. I guess they are self monitoring," Alvarado said. "I guess what’s more appalling is that as state agencies we’re having to make cuts and then we learn that there is supplemental income in such a large amount."