Records obtained by City Weekly show that John Swallow and two other high-ranking members of the Attorney General’s Office received a total of $10,000 in bonuses this year.
The records show that the payments were posted June 30, 2013: $3,000 to Utah Attorney General Swallow, $4,000 to chief deputy AG Kirk Torgensen and $4,000 to communications & policy director Paul Murphy.
Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he awarded the bonuses as he was leaving the AG’s Office in November 2012 because the three are non-merit, exempt employees who had not benefited from raises that Shurtleff had secured from the Legislature for the AG’s Office’s line staff.
“They did an extraordinary job in so many ways,” he says. They rendered remarkable service to him when he was attorney general, he says, and to his office—particularly Torgensen and Murphy, who had been in the office more or less since the beginning of Shurtleff’s administration. Swallow received less, Shurtleff says, because he’d been there only three years.
“It was my gratitude for their service,” Shurtleff concludes.
That all three checks, listed as incentive awards, were posted at the end of June 2013, the end of the fiscal year, is a head-scratcher for Shurtleff, who says he approved them before he left office.
Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for the AG’s Office who responded via e-mail to City Weekly’s questions about the bonuses, says that “the awards were actually paid in January on their paychecks. They were awarded by Mark Shurtleff before he left office, but because of the two-week delay in payroll, they weren’t received until later.”
Marilee Richins, public information officer for the Department of Administrative Services, says such bonuses are normally paid at the end of the fiscal year. After researching the payments, Richins said the check for Paul Murphy related to the difficult duties, “long hours and uncomfortable situations” that he had faced recently at the AG’s Office. She was unable to find any information on Torgensen’s bonus other than that it was for “exceptional service.”
Richins was unable to comment on Swallow’s bonus because, she says, “typically, you don’t see incentive awards with elected officials.” She referred City Weekly to the head of human resources at the Attorney General’s Office, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Swallow’s AG salary is capped by the Legislature at 95 percent of the governor’s, at around $104,000.
A local criminal attorney familiar with the House investigation into Swallow, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that monies over and above Swallow’s legislatively capped salary—however they were attained—may raise red flags for investigators, particularly if seen through the lens of Utah Code 76-8-402, which prohibits public officials from using public monies for their own personal benefit.
A red flag for one longtime AG employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was Shurtleff’s mention of raises secured for line staff, since, the employee says, staff last saw raises—beyond cost-of-living adjustments—in 2008.
“What I think would upset employees most of all, is this comes at a time when attorney compensation is way below market in state government, and support staff’s salaries have remained pretty much flat, all through Mark’s administration and into John’s,” the AG’s Office source says.
Alliance for a Better Utah’s David Irvine noted that all three recipients are “high-salary” people at the AG. Torgensen, according to Utah’s Right to Know public-salary database, earns $211,000 a year gross, including benefits, and Murphy almost $160,000 gross, also including benefits.
“There are all kinds of state employees who are very, very good at their jobs, and whose compensation is far lower than these guys’ regular salaries,” Irvine writes in an e-mail. “They do real work. They don’t get much of anything by way of salary bumps, and they never see ‘bonuses.’ ”
And that the news of the bonuses is emerging at a time when the office is embroiled in scandal only heightens AG employee outrage, the AG’s Office source adds. “I suppose that if Mark opted to pay them a bonus out of campaign funds that’s one thing, but this is the public’s money.”
According to the AG policy manual, division chiefs may “reward employees for exemplary performance of job duties, or completion of a project of major consequence, or beyond what is normally expected on the job or proposing a change that generates a saving or increases productivity within the office.”
Political appointees, the AG’s Office employee says, have artificially high salaries because they are not protected, as merit employees are, from being removed by newly elected officials. But why they deserve bonuses is beyond the employee.
And, while “Paul has had a tough year with John ... Paul chose to hitch his horse to that wagon,” the source says. “While he may say he’s not Swallow’s personal defender, it’s certainly how it came across.”