published Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

TVA, Erlanger tops for public worker pay


* See salaries for public employees working at Hamilton, Catoosa and Bradley county schools and government, the cities of Chattanooga, Cleveland, East Ridge, Red Bank, Soddy-Daisy and Signal Mountain, Erlanger Health System, EPB, Cleveland Utilities and top TVA officers. Visit

For government work, there still is plenty of money to be made in Chattanooga.

As the power headquarters for America’s biggest government utility and the home of one of the state’s largest public hospital systems, Chattanooga had 17 government employees who were paid more than the president of the United States.

According to salary data received from more than a dozen area government agencies, the 50 highest-paid public employees in Chattanooga all earned more than $175,000 last year, or more than six times the average pay for Chattanooga area workers.

The biggest salaries were paid to Tennessee Valley Authority managers. The federal utility had 30 of the top 50 highest-paid government employees in Chattanooga.

Two TVA executives took home more than $1 million each last year, even though the agency cut out bonuses for top managers following the 2008 coal ash spill at its Kingston, Tenn., Fossil Plant. An additional 14 TVA vice presidents were paid more last year than President Barack Obama, who gets $400,000 a year.


Buoyed by TVA and Erlanger Health System, 17 government employees in Chattanooga were paid more last year than President Barack Obama’s $400,000 salary. The 50 highest-paid public employees in Chattanooga all earned more than the $174,000 salary paid to members of Congress.

Profile of the highest paid in government

Among the 50 top-paid government employees in Chattanooga:

* 90 percent are men

* 92 percent are white

* 60 percent work for TVA

* 24 percent work for Erlanger Health System

* 10 percent work at UTC

* 4 percent are in Hamilton County government

Sources: Employee salary data provided by local governments in response to open records requests by the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Erlanger Health System, Chattanooga’s public hospital system, had 12 of the top 50 highest-paid government workers in the area, not counting the earnings of doctors with whom Erlanger contracts for medical services.

Officials with TVA and Erlanger insist their pay is required to remain competitive with other utilities and hospitals, which often pay even higher salaries. Although publicly owned, TVA receives no tax money and Erlanger derives less than 1 percent of its funding from local property taxes.

David Mould, TVA’s $275,000-a-year communications vice president, said the TVA Act requires that the government utility pay “prevailing compensation for similar positions in private industry.”

“TVA needs a highly specialized work force in many areas to help assure safe and efficient business and utility operations, including nuclear power plants, an extensive high-voltage electric transmission system, hydroelectric facilities and other highly technical functions,” Mould said.

TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum Jr., whose $1.5 million salary last year was the highest at TVA and the biggest for any Chattanooga government worker, earned one-third less than the industry average for executives in comparable jobs at private utilities, according to a comparison with other utilities by Tower Perrin consultants.

Last year, the chief operating officer of Duke Energy in North Carolina, James L. Turner, was paid more than $4.3 million, while the No. 2 executive for Southern Co. in Atlanta, W.B. Bowers, was paid nearly $2.4 million.

Critics question TVA pay

U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., has questioned the need for TVA to match the executive pay given by private utilities.

“Just because someone else is making a ridiculous or unjustified salary does not mean that a public service agency like TVA should follow suit,” he told TVA President Tom Kilgore two years ago.

For the first half-century of TVA’s 77-year history, its employees weren’t allowed to make more than members of Congress, now $174,000 a year. Last year, 59 managers at TVA were paid more than members of Congress.

In 1981, when TVA was building 17 nuclear reactors, the agency employed more than 52,000 workers, but its top officer was paid less than $100,000 a year.

TVA now employs fewer than 13,000 workers and is building just one new nuclear reactor at a time. Yet the agency paid four executives in Chattanooga and Knoxville more than $1 million each last year.

“People can rationalize about anything, but you don’t have to pay ridiculous salaries to entice good people to East Tennessee,” Patrick Newton, Duncan’s communications director, said last week.

Recessionproof jobs?

Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Studies, a conservative think tank, complained that government agencies aren’t subject to the market discipline of the private sector. Public employers haven’t had to trim staff and expenses as much as private businesses during the recession of the past three years, he said.

“With the economy stalling, it seems like the only part of the economy that is not shrinking is the government sector,” Owen said.

In metropolitan Chattanooga, government employment in August totaled 34,600, or 100 fewer than the same month three years ago when the economy began to falter. In the same period, private-sector jobs in metro Chattanooga fell by 20,700, from 213,000 in August 2007 to 192,300 in August 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most of the highest-paid government workers in Chattanooga are employed in jobs that compete against private or nonprofit positions.

Erlanger pays its chief executive, Jim Brexler, an annual salary of $550,017 to operate Chattanooga’s biggest hospital, which is publicly owned. Memorial Health System, a nonprofit hospital owned by Catholic Heath Initiatives, pays its president, Jim Hobson, a base salary of $445,421, Memorial spokesman Brian Lazenby said.

Vicky Gregg, president of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, was paid more than $2.2 million, or four times Brexler’s salary last year, according to BlueCross filings with the state insurance department.

“We need to have the best and the brightest at Erlanger for us to be able to provide the quality of health care we deliver while still having to absorb more than $80 million a year in uncompensated care,” Erlanger Chairman Dan Quarles said. “If you look at the record of Jim Brexler and his staff, he has been very successful in managing this 4,000-person operation.”

Education pays

The head of the single largest employer in Chattanooga — Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales — earned less than half as much as Brexler last year to oversee nearly 6,000 teachers and other school system staff. Scales’ $202,275 salary last year placed him 40th among top-paid government employees in Chattanooga, although that was the highest salary of any city or county employee in the region.

Five educators and administrators at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga also were among the 50 highest-paid government employees in Chattanooga.

Henry McDonald, the former director of the NASA Ames Research Center who helps lead the SimCenter as the chair of excellence in computational engineering, was the highest-paid state employee in Chattanooga last year with an annual salary of $238,743. The director of the SimCenter, David Whitfield, also was among the top-paid professors at UTC with an annual salary of $219,961.

The two computational engineering professors helped establish the SimCenter at UTC in 2002 as UTC’s first Ph.D. program.

“It’s hard to even put a dollar estimate on the extraordinary national reputation and recognition that comes to our campus because of the SimCenter,” UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.

Cantrell noted that UTC staff has not had a raise in two years and UTC Chancellor Roger Brown took a 5 percent pay cut two years ago when the university was forced to trim its overall budget.

The top pay of government workers in Chattanooga still was only a fraction of the salary given to Chattanooga’s highest-paid business executive.

Unum Corp. President Tom Watjen, who heads the world’s biggest disability insurance company, made $9.3 million in 2009, and that’s after a $2.9 million drop in pay from the previous year due to a decreased bonus.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
TeaParty330 said...

TVA has 59 managers who earn more than the $174,000 paid to members of Congress. It's certainly a lot less expensive to live and work in the Tennessee Valley than it is to work in Washington D.C. But then TVA workers keep our lights on, while Congress seems to just keep us in the dark.

October 3, 2010 at 8:06 a.m.
sideviews said...

You get what you pay for. TVA and Erlanger demand the best talent to power our economy and save lives. Many private sector employees who do far less make much more.

October 3, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.
mkelley said...

Honestly, why don't you publish the names of the folks who donate to the political campaigns? That would change more than these public service folks who actually make less doing the same job than a lot of the private sector folks.

Chattarati had/has a Cash Maps site that's been doing that since 2008. Way to catch-up.

October 3, 2010 at 9:10 a.m.
rosebud said...

Hey TFP: let's see how brave & open you really are. Since you're fearlessly ripping the lid off of government salaries, how about taking it a step further?

As a taxpayer, I'm entitled to know how much the city, county and state folks make. And you've relentlessly pursued and published that information.

I also pay for your newspaper. How about a listing of how much TFP employees make, from the top down? Is my subscription money being spent wisely?

Hmmm...this would take real courage.

October 3, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.
Soos54 said...

Are you kidding me CTFP?!? You are trying to "expose" TVA and Erlanger workers for their large paychecks? This doesn't make sense to me and seems like a shallow non-story.

If we value services like electricity and emergency hospital services, wouldn't you want those people performing that work to be paid well? If they were paid pennies, than we'd expect much less out of them. You get what you pay for, right?

If corporate greed is what you are looking for, why not expose the folks providing non-crititcal services. And another thing - we already have sensationalist media to turn to when we need it. It's called Fox News. No need for our respectable local paper to join the trend of "controversy around every corner"!

October 3, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Unum Corp. President Tom Watjen, who heads the world’s biggest disability insurance company, made $9.3 million in 2009, and that’s after a $2.9 million drop in pay from the previous year due to a decreased bonus.

Well, Tom, if you could forego that ENORMOUS salary for maybe...let's say...$1,000,000/year then about 400 disabled people that UNUM probably denied long term disability payments could get their know, the disability that they paid premiums on in case they ever became ill.

October 4, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.
SavartiTN said...

mkelley, check out That let's you in on where politicians get their money. If you want to know exactly where the money comes from then try

October 4, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.
jzane22 said...

I usually don't comment but I felt compelled due to the irresponsible and abuse of the first amendment this represents. As our city's only newspaper, you should show some more restraint when it comes to the lives of private citizens. Who exactly does this information benefit? Taxpayers? How exactly does it benefit us? Does it benefit the line level staff that work in the maintenance and operations departments at Erlanger and TVA? How about the cafeteria workers, gift shop attendants, parking garage attendants, or security guards? Does it help them? I think not. All you managed to accomplish with your 'investigative journalism' is a direct invasion into the private lives of people trying to make a living. Why would you post someone's salary? Do you want your salary posted Mr. Flessner? Doubtful. This was irresponsible, intrusive, and just plain ridiculous. I happen to know a lot of good and honest people who work at both TVA and Erlanger and am absolutely ashamed that you would print their salary information. Regardless of what position they hold. This probably will not even affect upper management at either facility anyway. It will affect those line level staff people who are just trying to work, live, and pay the bills from paycheck to paycheck. So congratulations on all the discord and negative attitudes you have helped to propagate with your 'Right To Know' expose. Just because you can use the power of the first amendment as a way to get information does not mean you should.

October 4, 2010 at 3:46 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Both Erlanger and TVA are tax supported, quasi-government agencies and as such deserve to have all financial records made public.

Harry Statel

October 4, 2010 at 6:37 p.m.
Nunyabiz said...

Mr. Statel, Perhaps the public has a "right to know" the financial records of these public institutions, however I do not believe this "right" should extend to the pay of every individual working for these entities. That is personal information and significantly different from stating "the typical nursing, administrative, etc... Salary is..." Does this newspaper not realize that these same people are not allowed to discuss pay amongst themselves without facing disciplinary action? I have worked many jobs, and the policy is always the same. Yet here CTFP has laid all bare for the world to see. I will be cancelling my subscription to the paper after this fiasco. Print news we can use. Don't go making scandal where none exists. If you compaired their salaries to any like employees within the private sector, you would quickly see how poorly paid they are.

October 4, 2010 at 9:49 p.m.
noneyabiz said...

Hey Dave Flessner - Good job! You have now caused unwanted animosity in the work place! What an accomplishment!!! Do you even know how many hours these employees work or what training they have? NO, you don't! What a disgrace to need to MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS....but if you get bored again, print your own salary...we all could use a good laugh!

October 5, 2010 at 1:32 p.m.
BSethics said...

Obviously this newspaper does not desire to maintain the integrity and honesty it had under the publishing history of Frank McDonald and family.

Words are meaningless unless they are supported by action. If you had your salary published, and you subscribe to this newspaper,CANCEL your newspaper subscription, today! I just did and it felt really good! Encourage your institutions' marketing department to stop providing this newspaper with any business transactions.

October 5, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.
sideviews said...

No one is suggesting Erlanger or TVA employees are overpaid. Most of us recognize the hard work these employees perform for the pay they receive. This is just information that helps us understand where taxpayer dollars are being spent and allows the local employment market place to better function in a more transparent manner. Newspapers publish lots of information about everything from weather temperatures and stock prices to TV listings and show times. That is helpful data, not scandalous news. This information is already available to many lenders and public officials. Thank you CTFP for making it available to the public.

October 5, 2010 at 9:46 p.m.
scrap said...

I'm an Erlanger employee. I resent the fact you thought my co-workers and anyone else who knows me need to know what my salary is. My co-workers and I don't even discuss our individual salaries.

I think you need to take our names and salaries off your website.

Maybe we need a class action suit against you and your organization.

October 11, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.
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