The COVID pandemic was tough on everyone, but the 2020 pay increases for some Johnson County government workers were pretty nice.  This list of 67 of the highest-paid employees for the county, JoCo Parks & Rec, and the cities of Olathe, Shawnee, and Lenexa reflects an average net increase of 8.5% for those employees.  Gross pay increases were artificially inflated by having 27 pay periods in 2020 compared to 26 pay periods in 2019; all increases in this article are net of the impact of the extra pay period.

High-paid employees that were hired in 2020, apparent promotions from title changes, and those with net pay changes of less than three percent are excluded.  Overland Park is excluded from this analysis because it has not yet provided the data requested in the Open Records request.

Complete payroll listings for all employees of each city and county entity are at KansasOpenGov.org.  The amounts listed include salary, hourly wages, bonuses, overtime, and other compensation for all 27 pay periods, but not benefits.  KansasOpenGov is operated by the Sentinel’s owner, Kansas Policy Institute.

Examples of 2020 pay increases

The examples below reflect total pay as reported for 2020, based on 27 pay periods; the percentage increase is net of the impact of the extra paycheck and is rounded to the nearest percent.

Some of the larger increases for county and Parks & Rec employees include:

  • County Manager Penny Postoak +14% to $290,085
  • Deputy Director of Legal Services Cynthia Dunham +25% to $196,431
  • Assistant County Manager Joe Connor +15% to $200,913
  • Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson +6% to $231,835
  • Assistant County Manager Joe Waters +7% to 214,883
  • Parks & Rec Executive Director Jeffrey Stewart +26% to $189,200
  • Parks & Rec Assistant Superintendent of Recreation Louis Sonnier +10% to $98,718

Quite a few city employees also had double-digit pay increases, including:

  • Shawnee Parks & Rec Director Brently Holman +30% to $216894
  • Shawnee City Manager Nolan Sunderman +13% to $189,486
  • Shawnee Assistant Finance Director Deborah Kelly +27% to $139,785
  • Olathe Police Chief Michael Butaud +16% to $186,525
  • Olathe Chief Communication Officer Erin Schellhardt +19% to $160,625
  • Olathe Deputy Fire Chief David Anderson +10% to $152,584
  • Lenexa City Manager Rebecca Yocham +7% to $218,792
  • Lenexa Police Chief Thomas Hongslo +16% to $212,891
  • Lenexa Fire Chief Travis Vaughn +19% to $158,379

Local officials react

The Sentinel asked officials yesterday afternoon to explain the large 2020 pay increases.

Jeff Stewart, Executive Director of Johnson County Parks & Recreation said his own increase mostly resulted from being promoted in the 4th quarter of 2019; he said Louis Sonnier was promoted in the first quarter of 2019.  Stewart also said a three percent merit pool “was utilized to reward eligible employees based on performance in 2019 and that some “minor bonuses” were provided to some employees.

Olathe Mayor John Bacon said pay increases were instituted in January 2020.

“The significant differences in compensation primarily apply to individuals who were promoted or were serving in an acting role with new or different responsibilities while an open position was held vacant.”

All employees in “good standing” with the City of Lenexa received a 3.5% pay increase in 2020, according to Mayor Mike Boehm.  He also cited pay increases associated with these promotions:

  • Rebecca Yocham: promoted from Community Development Director to City Manager
  • Travis Vaughn: promoted from Deputy Fire Chief to Fire Chief. Additionally, the Fire Chief does not have an assigned Fire Department vehicle (which is provided to the Deputy Chief) and the new compensation includes a vehicle allowance.
  • Dawn Layman: promoted from Deputy Police Chief to Police Chief
  • Stanley Myrtle: promoted from Battalion Chief to Division Chief
  • Logan Wagler: promoted from Deputy Parks & Recreation Director to Parks & Recreation Director

Boehm also wrote, “Police Chief Thomas Hongslo retired in 2020 after serving Lenexa for 25 years, and his final compensation includes payment of accrued but unused vacation.  Deputy City Manager Todd Pelham’s job was reclassified and with that came a salary increase.  Margery Tilton received a 3.5% increase and a small market adjustment.  Andrew Drummond received a 3.5% increase, the standard for employees in good standing.”

Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson’s statement that “It would be incorrect to refer to the percentage increase from 2019 to 2020 as a pay increase” likely rings hollow with the many county residents and business owners whose financial suffering from government-induced consequences continues.

She went on to say, “Some of the factors that impacted the percentage increase from 2019 to 2020 in the chart you provided include an extra pay period in the 2020 calendar, retirements including leave payouts, employees serving interim roles which included additional compensation, and bonuses earned by the extraordinary work performed to fight the pandemic.”

City of Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler responded, “I am checking on this for you. The governing body has no authority over salaries so I do not know the answer.”

Asked to clarify, Distler wrote, “The council approves the budget but the city manager has the authority over the salaries. We did not know about these increases. We do not have access or knowledge to employee salaries.”

City Manager Nolan Sunderman wrote, “Many pay increases are a result of payouts for retirements and promotions. Employees who leave the organization are paid out for any accrued sick/vacation days. Long term employees who plan for retirement can request that these balances be drawn down over three years. The payout policy was updated in 2012 to reduce the amount of accrued sick time that is paid out to employees upon separation. Some retirements led to internal promotions with corresponding pay increases.”

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