Mental health chief seeks 7% raise
Detroit – — Less than two years on the job, the president of an authority that provides services to the disabled in Wayne County could receive a 7 percent pay increase Wednesday to $240,750.
The raise for Detroit-Wayne Mental Health President and CEO Tom Watkins would come amid anxiety over funding for services, but authority members say he’s worth it.
He began the job in August 2013, two months before the agency was spun off from Wayne County into an independent authority.
“The optics are going to be whatever people say they are, but personally, I think he’s earned it,” said Tim Killeen, a board member of the authority who served on a committee that recommended the raise. “We’ve had a trying first year and he’s done a tremendous job.”
Watkins also wants an unspecified car allowance and changes to his severance. The authority board is expected to negotiate those benefits and consider the raise when it meets at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The authority serves 100,000 people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems. Last year, its Medicaid funding was reduced $20 million by the state, and Watkins warned in a January report that state deficits could mean more cuts.
Authority member Bernard Parker said he’s undecided about the pay raise but he has “concerns.”
“It’s something we need to look at and evaluate,” Parker said. “If it’s a situation where we have other options, we need to explore them.”
Watkins, the state’s former superintendent of public education, now makes $225,000. His predecessor, Veda Sharp, made $160,000 when the county operated the agency.
The authority last year hired a Birmingham firm, Rahmberg, Stover & Associates, to evaluate salaries and benefits of its workers.
It found Watkins makes $43,000 more than the average salary of CEOs of community mental health providers in neighboring counties, but far less than presidents of large nonprofits such as Hospice of Michigan and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
The firm was paid $60,000 for the study. Among other things, it recommended a 10-20 percent pay increase for Watson, a $600-$800 monthly car allowance and annual bonuses of 10-15 percent.
Watson is now halfway through a three-year contract. His severance would pay him nine months salary if he is fired without cause before October and six months if he’s let go after that date.
Killeen said Watkins has led the agency through “an enormous amount of issues,” including two contract negotiations and a planned move out of Wayne County-leased offices.
He “exceeded expectations” in his annual review, said Frank Ross, board chairman.