The median salary for a statewide chief information officer in 2017 was $153,326, according to data published recently by the Council of State Governments. Until last month, Kentucky’s top IT official earned just above that figure, taking home $160,000 a year.
But Charles Grindle, whom Gov. Matt Bevin appointed last December as the Bluegrass State’s CIO, now earns more than double that sum, thanks to an Aug. 1 pay raise that boosted his salary to $375,000 a year, making Grindle Kentucky’s highest-paid public employee outside the state university system.
And since Grindle’s raise was first reported Aug. 28 by the Louisville Courier-Journal , it’s whipped up controversy about the salaries Bevin is paying out to his top officials, as well questions about whether Kentucky — with the fifth-lowest median household income of any state — should paying a CIO so handsomely. “Surely we can find someone who is dedicated and highly qualified at a much more reasonable salary,” State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat, told the paper.
Bevin has defended the raise as commensurate with Grindle’s experience: a retired Army colonel with two advanced degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Grindle spent 29 years in uniform, including stints as the lead IT officer for the Third Army during the Gulf War, and as the CIO of the U.S. Military Academy from 2011 to 2012.
“What we’re paying Dr. Grindle is really about a third of what he could make in the private sector,” Bevin told reporters last week, adding that Grindle’s new $375,000 is a “steal” compared with what he could earn from a Fortune 500 company. Kentucky’s Finance and Administration Cabinet, the agency to which Grindle reports, said last week he has already saved the state “millions” since he started in the CIO job last October, including $2.9 million from “managing” consulting and video-conference contracts, as well as $3 million in the next fiscal year as the state consolidates its storage and server infrastructure.
But infrastructure consolidation is a fairly common mandate for a new state CIO, and Kentucky’s process has been underway since Bevin’s predecessor, Steve Beshear, signed a 2013 executive order aimed at reducing the state’s IT costs. And Grindle is not alone among high-ranking Army veterans to become state IT chiefs: Michigan’s Dave DeVries is also a retired colonel who spent 29 years on active duty. DeVries earns $180,000 a year — 17 percent above the median reported by the Council of State Governments, but still less than half what his Kentucky counterpart now earns.
Bevin’s office did not respond to questions for more information on what savings Grindle has already achieved for the state government. But Bevin, a Republican elected in 2015, has irked other state officials before with decisions to pay some of his appointees above the state government’s ordinary salary cap of $163,992. Vivek Sarin, the chief of staff for Kentucky’s economic development agency, is earning $250,000 a year; Daniel Dumas, a Southern Baptist pastor Bevin hired as an adoption policy “czar,” was being paid a $240,000 annual salary, but left seven months into his contract and received a $60,000 termination fee . In all three instances, Bevin had to get the Kentucky legislature to pass special bills authorizing the abnormally high salaries.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat and son of Bevin’s predecessor, called the $60,000 payment to Dumas illegal . Now, Grindle’s pay is becoming an issue in Kentucky politics. “I think it is both outrageous and irresponsible to take this type of action,” the younger Beshear, who is a candidate to challenge Bevin in next year’s gubernatorial race, said about the CIO’s raise .
Over the weekend, Bevin’s office gave what could be read as a response: sharing a YouTube video highlighting Grindle’s first few months on the job.