White males are overwhelmingly the top earners in public agencies across Beaufort and Jasper counties.
Among the 83 government workers earning $100,000 or more, just 20 are women, or fewer than 25 percent. That’s less than half the percentage breakdown of overall residents, according to the most recent census figures.
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It’s worse for minorities. Only one minority, University of South Carolina Beaufort chancellor Al Panu, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, made the top 10 list of county employees. And only 10 employees earning six-figure salaries self-identified as a minority race on personnel files. That number would be much worse if not for the Beaufort County School district, which has three principals and two administrators on the list.
These are some of the findings from a review of worker salaries paid in 11 agencies in Beaufort and Jasper counties. The salaries are public records because of the long-held belief that taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent and how agencies that serve the public operate. State law requires base-salary information for any public employee making $50,000 or more to be available to the public.
A searchable database of the more than 1,900 public employees earning at least that much is available here. Citizens can conduct their own salary analysis by sorting and filtering through thousands of employees, allowing them to evaluate the government’s spending priorities, services provided, by whom and at what cost.
$220,000.00 Jeff Moss, Beaufort County School District Superintendent
$213,210.14 Ed Saxon, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority General Manager
$176,056.66 Gary Kubic, Beaufort County Administrator
$175,203.00 Steve Riley, Hilton Head Island Town Manager
$173,333.00 Al Panu, University of South Carolina Beaufort chancellor
$161,437.06 Greg DeLoach, Hilton Head Assistant Town Manager
$157,237.34 Dottie Hofmann, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority Deputy General Manager of Finance and Administration
$146,074.50 Frank Eskridge, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority Deputy General Manager-Operations and Technical Services
$140,672.00 Shirley Freeman, Town of Bluffton’s Director of Finance
$139,740.00 Richard Gough, Technical College of the Lowcountry President
Included in the database are 11 agencies: Beaufort County, the Beaufort County School District, the city of Beaufort, Jasper County, the Jasper County School District, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the town of Bluffton, the Town of Hilton Head Island, the town of Port Royal, the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority. The authority is a public, nonprofit corporation that does not receive taxpayers’ dollars.
Among other notable findings from the salary review:
▪ The agency employing the most six-figure earners is Town of Hilton Head Island, with 17 employees. Beaufort County is not far behind, with 16 employees.
▪ Only two people working for Jasper County School District earn more than $100,000. No one employed by Jasper County earns $100,000.
▪ The University of South Carolina Beaufort employs 13 people who earn six-figure salaries, while the Technical College of the Lowcountry employs four above that mark.
▪ Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner is not the highest-paid in his office. His No. 2, Chief Deputy Sheriff Michael Hatfield, earns slightly more, $119,257.32 to Tanner’s $118,584.96. Hatfield’s pay is determined by a compensation plan set by the sheriff, while the sheriff’s salary is set by the county, Sheriff Tanner said.
Superintendent is top paid employee
At $220,000, Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss is the highest paid public employee in the county — and one of the highest paid superintendents in the state.
“This is my 33rd year (in education), so that probably has some bearing on a superintendent’s contract,” Moss said.
Moss’ salary is the third highest among the state’s superintendents — even though his district is 11th in terms of student-population size. The average salary for an S.C. superintendent is $134,939, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
Moss, however, pointed out his salary is likely less than CEOs who work in the county’s private sector.
“Look beyond public and private organizations and understand the responsibilities and daily activities of a school superintendent,” Moss said. The school district is the county’s largest employer with almost 3,000 workers and more than 21,000 students.
The higher pay also likely reflects that it’s more expensive to live in Beaufort County than in any other S.C. county, according to data from the S.C. Department of Commerce.
Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic, the county’s third highest paid public employee, also pointed to the area’s high cost of living when discussing his salary. It was set at $127,500 when he started in 2003.
Since then, he said he accepted one merit increase and one bonus, so every other “raise” has been a cost-of-living adjustment. And since 2013, he has agreed to a pay freeze, locking his salary in at $176,056.56 until his contract ends next year.
“Salary is commensurate with educational requirements and areas of responsibilities,” Kubic said. “I have over 40 years of experience, manage millions of dollars and more than 1,100 employees.”
Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley has been on the job longer than Moss and Kubic, overseeing every major project on the island since 1991.
Still, Riley’s annual $175,203 salary is the same — or even less — than that of top administrators at municipalities of similar size. For example, the city manager for Sumter and the city administrator for Goose Creek both earn more than Riley, though their towns aren’t popular tourist spots.
“In many respects, we are operating a town much larger than our population indicates,” Riley said, referring to the more than 2.5 million tourists who visit the island each year. “Thousands of daily commuters work on the island and tens of thousands of visitors are on the island in the peak of summertime.”
Diversity in education
While universities nationwide are often criticized for handing out hefty salaries to administrators, the University of South Carolina Beaufort has only one employee on the list of top-10 local public earners.
Further, its chancellor Al Panu, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the only black employee on the list. And its former chancellor, Jane Upshaw, is a woman, indicating a university priority to recruit diverse leaders.
“A multicultural campus community is one of our priorities, and it strengthens our ability to serve our students and the region,” said Dr. Gordon Haist, the university’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Gender gap persists
Experience is rewarded financially in the county’s agencies. Like Moss, Kubic and Riley, the top earners of the Water & Sewer Authority have years of work experience. This may be why three of the top 10 earners hail from this agency.
At an annual salary of $213,210.14, the authority’s general manager Ed Saxon is the second highest paid public employee. He has worked there for more than 25 years.
Dottie Hofmann, the authority’s deputy general manager of finance and administration, comes in at No. 7, making her the highest paid woman of the 11 agencies. She has about two decades of financial management experience.
“Women have come a long way,” said Hofmann, who earns $157,237.34. “There are a lot more resources for women in upper management and business in general.”
She began as controller of finance, but now oversees customer service, billing, meter reading, human resources, public relations and safety.
Women have come a long way. There are a lot more resources for women in upper management and business in general.
Dottie Hofmann, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority deputy general manager of finance and administration
The only other woman in the top 10, Shirley Freeman, manages the finances and information technology for the town of Bluffton where she has worked for 31 years.
“I’m just glad I have the opportunity to be in public service,” Freeman said. “I don’t see myself in leadership as much as I see myself as a support person.”
Kelly Meyerhofer: 843-706-8136