For job well done, an $80,000 bonusBoard voted to reward manager as he became secretary of state
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, August 12, 2007
AUSTIN - On the same June day Gov. Rick Perry named him Texas secretary of state, Phil Wilson received an $80,000 check from TexasOne - the nonprofit economic development organization that he managed as the governor's deputy chief of staff.
Mr. Wilson, 39, who is credited with closing deals on some of the state's biggest economic development projects, as well as shepherding the TexasOne program through its first few years, said the voting members of the organization's board wrote him the $80,000 check to "recognize the work I've done" for the organization."
"It was an opportunity to say, 'Phil Wilson, job well done,' " said Robert Wingo, president of TexasOne's board. "We felt like, 'What's wrong with rewarding people for doing a great job?' "
" The group's funding comes from memberships purchased by businesses and local governments and does not include taxpayer money.
Mr. Wingo said the supplemental salary payments are used to compensate Perry staffers who put in many extra hours operating TexasOne. Before June's $80,000 payment - about $58,000 after taxes - Mr. Wilson and three other Perry economic development aides had made a combined $65,000 in TexasOne salary supplements since 2004. "They're working above and beyond," Mr. Wingo said
There's no prohibition on padding salaries with supplements, and the practice is common during campaign season, when state officials' staffers often get bonuses for their work outside the office. But critics of the economic development organization's spending, which also include recruiting trips at luxury resorts and hot-ticket sporting events, say it's another sign that TexasOne is being used as petty cash for the governor's office.
"It looks like this fund is functioning as a slush fund to reward staff," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which tracks the influence of money in state politics. "It's just another pot for the governor to play with."
Mr. Perry's office announced Mr. Wilson was being tapped to replace outgoing Secretary of State Roger Williams on June 14. A press release touted Mr. Wilson's achievements in bringing big business to Texas, and preserved his position as the governor's "designee" on Mr. Perry's key economic development initiatives.
That same day, the Texas comptroller's office, which serves as the clearinghouse for TexasOne's funds, cut an $80,000 check to Mr. Wilson on behalf of the organization. The original check order, signed on June 13 by Mr. Wingo and TexasOne board vice president Nicholas Serafy Jr., indicated the money was for "professional services" rendered during the past year.
Perry press secretary Robert Black said the governor was not involved in the decision to award the bonus.
Board members alone decide whether to reward staffers financially, Mr. Wilson said, and they sign off on all of the organization's major monetary transactions.
Part of the secretary of state's duties is to act as an economic cheerleader for the state, and Mr. Williams had a role in TexasOne's work, as Mr. Wilson will continue to do.
Mr. Wilson said he'll no longer be getting salary supplements from the organization, though.
"That is over," he said. "None of that will continue."