Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tangled webs?

Geoff Pender delved into the world of independent contractors working in state government yesterday in the pages of the Clarion-Ledger:


Nathan Wells, chief of staff to House Speaker Philip Gunn, will leave his full-time post but continue working for the speaker's office as a $10,000-a-month contract worker.

Wells on Tuesday said he will continue for now doing the same policy, political, communications and House-member relations work he has done since Gunn was elected House speaker in 2012, but will also run his own energy business. Wells, who was making $135,000 a year as a full-time House employee, said his private business will not be working for state government or the Legislature.

Wells in July requested and received a state Ethics Commission opinion on whether he could leave his state job and become an independent contractor to the Legislature while maintaining a private business. The short answer was yes.

"I would cease to serve as a full-time employee ... and move to being an independent contractor for the purpose of making the transition easier for the office," Wells said in his request to the Ethics Commission. "... I would own and operate a business focused on helping private entities, city and county governments and school districts utilize technology to create better efficiency in the areas of energy usage and monitoring utilities."

Gunn on Tuesday said in a statement: "Nathan does a fantastic job. We are pleased he will be able to continue working with us. This arrangement is costing the state less money. There will be savings in salary, and savings due to the fact that Nathan won't receive benefits or retirement."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, also has a top lieutenant who works as a contract employee. Rebekah Staples served as a policy adviser to Reeves. In 2012 she left her full-time Senate job to become a governmental relations adviser for the law firm Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada, which according to its website is "one of the top government affairs and lobbying firms in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama."

But Staples has for years continued working for Reeves and the Senate during legislative sessions. She is a key player in setting the state's annual $6 billion budget. A Butler Snow official on Tuesday said Staples is no longer employed there, but she continued working there for years.

Records show the Senate has paid Staples $30,000 in years with a three-month legislative session and $40,000 in years with a four-month session. Every four years, after statewide elections, the legislative session runs for four months to give the newly elected Legislature more time.

Records show Staples also has a consulting contract with Mississippi State University's National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center. University records show the research center has paid Staples more than $48,000 in consulting fees and expenses since last year..... Rest of article.



49 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is more "do as I say not as I do" bs from the Legislature. I would like to start a petition for a law that says that the legislature cannot exempt itself from laws it passes that effect state government as a whole.

Think of all the laws that they pass that don't apply to the legislature: public records, contract regs, retirement restrictions, etc.

Anonymous said...

Yet again, the C/L identifies a legitimate issue but misses the bigger story. Wells and Staples combine for $150k in fees, but there are so many agency consultants who are getting paid more than that individually. That's the real story.

Anonymous said...

So the real take away is that this is a useless position, especially if it can be conducted on a part-time/contractual basis. I'm betting someone more competent could be contracted (if needed) for a third of the price. Strange when these guys talk about how much government has grown, they forget about their own offices!

Anonymous said...

This is akin to Donner complaining about deep pockets at MT Today while she leverages every ounce of free labor she can squeeze out of interns and campers.

Anonymous said...

Wells as an indy saves the state money. Nothing burger.

Anonymous said...

How about we make all state employees independent contractors? Once that is done taxpayers won't have to pay retirements, medical benefits and we can get rid of the MS state personnel board. Think of the money saved.

Anonymous said...

Another example where our USA Today rump-of-record nibbles around the edges to focus on the little shit. Wake me when the C-L comes out to demand a before-its-too-late immediate reform of our own Hurricane Harvey insolvent PERS.

Anonymous said...

Good ole conservatives.

Anonymous said...

So the Lieutenant Governor makes $60,000 per year. His aide makes $135,000 a year. That makes sense.

Anonymous said...

how about we elect people who have the ability to do the job themselves without the need for all these contractors

looks like all that talk about smaller government from Repulicans is just that..talk

Anonymous said...

So what is really happening is we had a guy making $135k doing a job that did not require anything close to 40 hours a week. Because now he will be doing the same job on the side while running a full time business.

If Phillip really needs a chief of staff, why would he not replace Wells with somebody that would give him 50-60 hours a week?

And how much political clout is Wells going to have working with cities and counties in his new business? Still smells like a conflict.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we have Butler Snow save the state some money and simply have it send one of its hired lobbyist straight to the capitol to write the state budget? Let's skip this whole part where the lobbyist receives a partial state salary for work performed on state time.

Anonymous said...

Jim Hood will not be the next Governor.

Anonymous said...

As long as it's not Tatter-Tot

Anonymous said...

People should be able to trust our own government.
We can't.

Anonymous said...

Geez...do we have enough lawyers in MS yet?

Anonymous said...

Allowing employees to leave, draw retirement and essentially perform the same job as an independent contractor is one reason PERS is in trouble. Gunn is nothing but a crook to allow it.

Anonymous said...

Stupid statements by those that just like to spew hate. "Elect people that don't need help". Please tell me what positions of authority don't have assistants, subordinates, etc. Nothing at all wrong with having assistants and staff.

And attempting to make a comparison to this move by Wells leaving and becoming a contractor to the issue raised by the Speaker et.al. last year just shows the stupidity. That issue was state employees that worked 25 or plus years under the retirement system THEN leaving only to take basically the same job as a contractor. That problem (scheme) allowed the employee to collect his lucrative pension without actually retiring. What Wells is doing is totally different. He will not be collecting his retirement benefits but will be moving into a position where he only works part-time for the state. Apples and two by fours comparison.

Hell, I thought folks would be happy that the expense to the state would be being reduced by over half, after benefits. Seems to me that is actually downsizing government, which is what the bitchers here seem to claim to want.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that tries to justify this absolute waste of taxpayer money, or better yet, somehow argues that it saves money is attempting to blow thick smoke up JJ readers' asses. And, then their is the effort to change the discussion to something else like PERS. The fact is that this "Chief of Staff" position is a waste of money regardless. But, it flies in the face of good conservative government to allow an employee jump over to independent contractor status so they can run a business on the side (that involves contracting with local governments that depend on the legislature for many state dollars) and only work part-time for 10K per month. KF - I'd sure like to see that contract.

Anonymous said...

12:29 - If you read the article, you would see that the employee that is moving to a contract basis is NOT eligible nor vested in PERS. It says that. In black and white. This person is NOT going to "leave, draw retirement and essentially perform the same job as an independent contractor". Either you are ranting about an issue that you obviously do not understand (due to a lack of intelligence or you are just lazy) or you are intentionally posting inaccurate statements to try to make something out of nothing. Either way, do us all a favor and step away from your keyboard.

Anonymous said...

So he gets to have his cake and eat it too? How can he sell his private business services to government entities such as K12, city and county officials and there not be a ethics issue. It should be one venture or the other.

This is nothing more than the good ole boy network at its finest.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:58, 12:29
Tate, or is it the contractor/consultant Tate employs to monitor and influence social media discussions.

Anonymous said...

Surely this will be one of Russ Latino's major legislative agenda items for 18--to stop government funded contract workers. Right?

Anonymous said...


TO: 12:29

I personally know of a half dozen former State employees that retired and went back as contractors. Most say they are helping train the employee that took their place, sooooooo let's see---new state employee hired to take retired individuals place and retired individual gets a money making contract from The State and draws State retirement at the same time---explain to me how this "BULL SHIT" saves The State one dime. The thieving Bastards should retire and train their replacement before they retire. We, the tax payers, are a bunch of spineless fools. My understanding is that there are several hundred of these contractors scattered throughout The State government. WOW !!!!!

Anonymous said...

The savings comes from Wells only being paid during the session, the same way Staples is paid. Obviously they're admitting that the Speaker's chief of staff isn't a position that's needed when the legislature is not in session, but the timing of this realization at the same time he wants to start up his own business is a little suspect.

Anonymous said...

These folks aren't retiring, they are using their influential positions to profitteer. They are gatekeepers to their bosses, control policy decisions and are used to whip votes in the state House and Senate. So they can be paid by private business to influence the legislature. Hmm...

Anonymous said...

to nothing burger guy and dude who thinks we're saving money. I'm now taking off my cap and beating yall over the head. Unless it's Nathan or Meg doing damage control, just stop it. Geez. I get why you guys would do it but NO ONE ELSE believes this pile. This is why Jim Hood WILL be Governor.

Anonymous said...

Cool, so we can hire them instead of a lobbyist!
Sounds much less transparent.

Anonymous said...

I'm not Nathan. I'm not Meg. I'm not Tate or a Tate surrogate. In fact, I am not an employee or an elected official. OK? Got it?

But I can read. This move by Wells is not the same thing that 2:23 and others want to bitch about. Its been explained more than once above, so I am sure you wont be able to understand again, but here's trying.

Wells is not leaving his PERS supported position to become a contractor and draw his retirement. He is not eligible for PERS. So, he is not the same as was argued against by Gunn and legislature last year. He is not double dipping. Yes, there are many state employees that do that very thing and it is one (not the) reason PERS is in trouble.

But, Speaker is downsizing his office. COS position will not be full time anymore. Wells on contract will get paid, but out of his monthly contract comes his cost of operation (insurance, retirement if any, match of SSI, Medicare, etc. -- all those things those of us in business have to pay that employees don't see)

Frankly, I see this as a gain to the state in the way of costs, but a loss to the state because he was actually doing a good job. But just as most good minds, after a few years of public service, they want to get out and work where they are more free to innovate - in the private sector.

Y'all bitch on - doesn't matter if you are a general hater, a Gunn hater, a Repub hater, or just a disgruntled state employee (all not mutually exclusive) - your dribble doesn't accomplish much but if it makes you feel better, so be it.

Anonymous said...

There is a pattern. Anytime there has been complaints on this blog about Gunn's overpaid political lackey, there seems to be an inordinate amount of posting in support of the lackey, and all of the posts sound suspiciously similar.

Anonymous said...

Is Gunn ok with each state executive director hiring a part time lackey for 10K per month to pick up clothes from the cleaners and shine shoes for the director?

Anonymous said...

So here's my problem with this, and I'll concede that it's a bit of a tangent: I hate the commonly accepted notion that you can "learn how government works" and become a professional consultant with no real subject matter expertise. You're simply a guy who can get things done. Like, does Nathan Wells know anything about the engineering or science behind energy efficiency technology? What does he bring to that table? Knowing Jim, Tom, and Randy up at So and So's office, playing golf with them, and having leverage to get them to vote a certain way is not a legitimate skill folks. It's influence peddling. It's corruption, in my view. It's pretty crazy how we just accept that industry and drive by its cathedral, the Butler Snow building, on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Downsizing Government? Really?
How about key staffers selling influence?

Anonymous said...

$10,000 a month in independent contractor fees is equivalent to a state employee making about $50,000 year (depending on overhead, it could be much less). So you had someone making $135,000, and costing the state close to double that when you count benefits and overhead (no one is reimbursing his mileage and meals now, no one is providing him with a free computer, free building, free utilities, free office supplies, free support staff, etc.). A lot of people don't realize that after all of these overhead expenses are paid, Uncle Sam comes and takes a third of whatever is left.

There's plenty of waste, corruption and conflicts of interest in state government, but this isolated example isn't what the CL should be trying to hang their hats on.

Anonymous said...

Maybe not eligible for PERS today but definitely has his high four and will be fine at age 60. All in the wording.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how many Republicans would be outraged about this if it involved a Democrat, but will break their backs carrying water for Mr. Gunn and those of his ilk. I thought I was a Republican until they assumed control of our state and I realized that they don't really mean anything they say about reducing government. I'm definitely not a Democrat. I guess it's an identity crisis.

Anonymous said...

Anybody want to lay odds on what suddenly prompted Wells to enter the field of advising local governments and school districts on energy usage?

You think maybe he just patented a new technology?

Or just earned a PhD in electrical engineering?

Or could it be that he realized local governments will gladly line up to pay the Speaker's chief of staff $20K per year apiece for access, so he needs a made up nonsense business to launder the money?

Anonymous said...

Energy savings consultancy is the biggest racket going in local government. It's like a Tony Robbins scheme but the counties and cities lap it up. Contracts always go to a favored known entity and now they will all go to the speakers pet. We are light years from getting to #49 in anything.

Anonymous said...

The partisan rat-fu*kery will kill this state. The sheer amount of corruption is incomprehensible, and they tell us it's okay if a certain party does it.

They have contracts to "monitor" us on social media and sometimes even here on this blog. You really have to ask yourself why that is. Why would politicians use our tax money to control the narrative on the internet when in reality, they mean nothing as politicians in the grand scheme of things. Corruption, that's why.

They don't mean shit to anyone besides the people they do (corrupt) favors for---- and heaven forbid their secret gets out.

Anonymous said...

The government is a racket. If any company was run the way our state and federal government is run all of the crooks would be in prison.

Anonymous said...

If you work for the government that's where you work.

If you are paid by the government but your loyalty is somewhere else....you are easily corrupted.

This is a bad policy...no matter how it's currently intended.

Anonymous said...

Let's say you are a k12, city or county official and Mr. I'm Gonna Get Oil Out Of My Wells comes a knocking..... does one really believe that he's not going to use his political contacts to butter his bread? He wouldn't be going into these market sectors, if he didn't stand to make lots of money from his previous (I mean 'contract') position. What a joke!

Anonymous said...

4:44 - Please sign up for a remedial math class. 10K per month = 120K per year, not 50K. And, focus on your work for the speaker, whatever in the hell that might be. I'm sure his clothes are ready to be picked up from the cleaner and his dogs need to be walked. You are probably much more qualified for those tasks.

Anonymous said...

He is selling access to the Speaker. I've seen Lobbyist charge $10,000 just to get a meeting with a Legislator. Of course, it's obvious some of that money goes back to the Legislator or some of his "nonprofit" causes. That is how the game is played.

Anonymous said...

"How about we make all state employees independent contractors? Once that is done taxpayers won't have to pay retirements, medical benefits and we can get rid of the MS state personnel board. Think of the money saved."

How about you go and clean up your room? You obviously know nothing about the IRS regulations pertaining to Independent Contractor Status.

Anonymous said...

5:15 makes a good point. As a state employee, the guy had conflicts of interest. As an IC, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Republican(s) John Polk and Jerry Turner run around talking about transparency....I call on them to introduce legislation in the next legislative cycle to make these two Republican(s) be fully transparent and make them release all of their clients to the public.

Anonymous said...

@12:11- Isn't Jerry Turner on the House Management Committee...and with that, wouldn't he have to approve this contract with Mr. Wells? As a Republican, this is very troublesome. As a member of the House, this is even more troublesome.

Anonymous said...

The comments are so nice in comparison to how they are when the same thing is done at the lower levels of government less eloquently.
Good ole boys playing good ole boy games becomes troublesome rather than outrageous.

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