Silence golden for an elite few

For most workers retiring means collecting whatever vacation pay is left, if they’re lucky, and walking out the door. For those in the upper reaches of the pay scale the transition into the golden years is often much more generously greased.

Consider the recently reported retirement of J. Campbell Cantrill III, who has been the chief legal officer for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System since 2008, earning most recently $137,314 a year.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed last week that Cantrill in late February was put on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation into “multiple reports” that he had violated KCTCS policies. Two months later an attorney hired to investigate reported he had found “a great deal of tension and dissatisfaction” among those who worked for Cantrill in the legal office but not that his actions or words created a “sexually hostile workplace.”

The letter did include an account of Cantrill showing a video on his phone to a female subordinate that, while “not pornographic nor overtly sexual” was “suggestive and dismissive” and made the woman “feel uncomfortable and intimidated.” We can only imagine.

A few days later Cantrill had a new job as a special assistant to the president for policy review and revision. Same salary, no staff to supervise and very, very vague job duties. And, oh, he can run a private law practice on the side. That onerous work runs until Aug. 31, 2017.

So, Cantrill was paid about $23,000 for the two months he was banned from the office during the investigation and will take in another $160,000 during his special assistant gig. All told, over $180,000 to ease him out of the system.

It’s not at all clear how much Cantrill will be hanging out at headquarters. According to the contract he must use or lose about five weeks of vacation days he’ll earn during the contract plus any vacation that may have been accrued and unused earlier.

This last provision, at least, represents a learning curve for KCTCS. KyCIR revealed last month that former KCTCS President Michael McCall had been paid $352,066 for 261 unused vacation days after he left.

In a way it’s not fair to pick on KCTCS over the Cantrill deal because these kinds of soft landings are common for high visibility employees who have become troublesome or embarrassing or worse.

In 2011 as efforts began to untangle the mess at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, commissioner Dr. Melinda Rowe was paid $51,000 for sick leave that stretched to 15 weeks before she left the department.

In 2013 University of Kentucky HealthCare agreed to pay Dr. Mark Plunkett more than $1 million to leave and never talk about whatever it is that went wrong in the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery department he directed at UK.

Need we recount the severance deals for some high-profile coaches like Billy Gillispie or Hal Mumme?

Nor, for those who are starting a chorus of chants about government waste, is this limited to the public sector. Just last fall Money Magazine ran a story with the headline: “Why Disgraced CEOs Get Insanely Generous Payout Packages When They’re Fired.”

Of course the answer is, so they will leave quietly.

Certainly this seems like a good investment for the managers and board members left behind who, after all, usually hired these people and were supposed to supervise them. These farewell checks come with agreements not to litigate or discuss the messy details that preceded the departure.

For the rest of us, though — who pay the taxes that pay off these guys, or lose jobs in restructurings caused by managers forced out the door, and who will never see a deal anywhere near so sweet — a lot of noise in the executive suite and the media might seem like the better bargain.