March 9, 2012; Source: Times-Picayune

The phenomenon of public officials using 501(c)(3) public charities to raise and distribute off-budget funding to supplement funds available for government functions is increasingly common.  In New Orleans, La., Mayor Mitch Landrieu hired Charles Brown, the former library director of Charlotte, N.C., at a seemingly reasonable salary of $139,000. However, last November, when the deal with Brown was consummated, city government officials refused to comment on whether there had been any sweeteners added to the package to get Brown. One of the sweeteners that was not discussed was the possibility that non-governmental charities had added to Brown’s compensation. According to the Times-Picayune, state law does not allow public officials to receive compensation for their public duties from outside, non-govermental organizations such as the Library Foundation

But it appears that that might have actually happened. Now the mayor is backfilling to ensure that having a third party foundation put more money toward the library director’s pay would be legal. State Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) just introduced a bill to authorize a foundation whose mission is to support the city’s library by adding to the library director’s salary. The chairman of the library board, Lee Reid, wouldn’t say that there had been an off-budget pay boost given Brown or that the library board had plans to increase his salary by drawing on foundation assets. Rather, Reid said, “When we review him at the end of the year, we want to be able to give him a raise…It’s really noncontroversial.”

The head of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation board, Irvin Mayfield, denied that officials wanted to tap the foundation (with $4.3 million in assets) to increase Brown’s salary, but he acknowledged the mayor might not want to put himself in the position of having to go back to the City Council to request a pay raise for the library CEO. 

The practice of adding to government employee compensation from outside foundations is not new. One might want to remind the library board head that pronouncing a practice “noncontroversial” is a sure way of tipping people off that there really might be something dark and sinister occurring, especially when it involves the compensation of senior government officials.—Rick Cohen