Politics & Government

Kentucky will pay couple $165,000 a year to advise state on adoption, foster care

Chris and Alicia Johnson with their 10 children.
Chris and Alicia Johnson with their 10 children. Photo provided by Gov. Matt Bevin's office

Kentucky will pay a Baptist minister and his wife an annual salary of $82,500 each to help the state reform its foster care and adoption systems, a state spokesperson said Thursday.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s office had declined to release the salaries for Chris and Alicia Johnson of Florida on Wednesday, when the announcement about their new Kentucky jobs was made.

Pamela Trautner, a spokeswoman for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, confirmed the salary Thursday and said the state’s contract with the Johnsons would be provided soon. The Herald-Leader filed an open records request for the contract Wednesday.

State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, called the combined $165,000 annual salary for the Johnsons “confounding.”

“To see how much money this state needs for foster care and pay for our social workers and then that salary, I don’t understand it,” she said.

Flood said she knew little about the Johnsons and their qualifications. “As a state legislator, this governor made no introductions of them to me,” she said.

Flood also said she was quizzical about hiring a team for the job. “How does that happen? How does that work?” she asked.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said Wednesday before the Johnsons’ salary was announced that he’s “hoping that the Johnsons can be external catalysts for a sea change in child welfare.”

More than 9,000 children were in state care on April 1.

Brooks was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

In May 2017, Bevin hired Daniel S. Dumas, who had been a senior vice president at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, for $240,000 a year plus bonuses to overhaul Kentucky’s adoption and foster care systems. The Republican governor then terminated his contract last January without explanation.

Bevin said the Johnsons will be special advisers in his Office of Faith and Community Based Initiatives. Their expenses will be covered by a memorandum of agreement with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Chris Johnson is the former lead pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Clermont, Fla., where he worked for 11 years. At the church, the couple began a program to connect prospective foster and adoptive parents with child welfare agencies. They also have been connected with foster and adoptive parent associations in Florida.

The couple has 10 children, ranging in age from 8 to 24. Three of their children are biological and seven are adopted from the foster care system. They have fostered more than 40 children.