Gov. Steve Beshear ordered a 25 percent pay raise for a friend and campaign donor who got a state job at the Office of Homeland Security.
Ralph Coldiron started this month as the $100,000-a-year executive director of the Commercial Mobile Radio Service Emergency Telecommunications Board, called the CMRS Board for short. The board collects user fees from wireless phone carriers to pay for improvements at local 911 call centers.
His predecessor, Kenneth Mitchell, made only $80,538 after about four years in the post.And the CMRS Board advertised the job with a salary range of $60,000 to $80,000.
CMRS Board Chairman David Lucas said he didn't know that Coldiron was making $100,000 until he read it Wednesday in a Herald-Leader story about Beshear's political appointees at Homeland Security, some of whom appear to have little relevant experience.
"The governor appointed him and set his salary. He never asked us," Lucas said. "His new salary will have to be included in our future budgets."
On Thursday, Coldiron said he knew the job had an $80,000 pay ceiling when he applied. But he believed he was worth $100,000, and he told that to the governor's office in his application.
Coldiron, a longtime Democratic aide and political activist, has known Beshear for years. He previously worked with Beshear chief of staff Adam Edelen at Thomas & King, a Lexington restaurant franchisee. Coldiron said he quit the company ahead of layoffs that were announced last month because of the weak economy, which put him in the job market.
Among his $12,000 in campaign donations since 1998 was money to Beshear and Edelen, who ran for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council.
"I put that I wanted a salary of $100,000, so you'd have to ask Adam Edelen what happened after that," said Coldiron, who also has worked for governors Julian Carroll, John Y. Brown Jr. and Wallace Wilkinson and for Lexington Mayor Scotty Baesler. "That was something I'm sure was done at the governor's office."
Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said he couldn't determine who initially authorized Coldiron's pay raise, although his hiring was approved — as all are political appointments — by the Finance and Personnel cabinets before the governor signed off.
However, Coldiron unquestionably deserves the larger salary, Blanton said.
"We try to pay people commensurate with their experience," Blanton said. "He was making much more in the private sector."
Not everyone agreed with the governor's office. In a worsening economic recession, it's unreal that Beshear's political appointees get to name their own six-figure salaries, said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
"Families across Kentucky are tightening their belts right now," Thayer said. "Not only are most working people not getting a 25 percent raise at their jobs, they're probably not getting any raise at all, and they might not get to keep their jobs much longer."
"I am certain the governor could have found a qualified person to do this job for the $60,000 to $80,000 that was advertised," Thayer added.
In fact, 19 people applied for the executive director's job, said Lucas, the CMRS Board chairman.
Eight candidates were found to be qualified, Lucas said. The board sent the names of three top-scoring finalists — Coldiron included — to the governor for his selection. None of the finalists complained to the board about the salary, he said.
"And we were happy with all three of them," Lucas said.