Investigation reveals Lt. Gov. Ramsey's chief of staff highest p

Investigation reveals Lt. Gov. Ramsey's chief of staff highest paid in nation

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BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL) - Lance Frizzell is highly respected in Tennessee. His accomplishments are impressive. The Army veteran served as a platoon leader in Iraq and received a Bronze Star. He's an elected Republican Party Committeeman and has more than a decade of service with the State of Tennessee. Frizzell has multiple college degrees, including a law degree, and is a married father of two.

A Community Watchdog investigation revealed Frizzell can now add another accolade to his resume:  highest paid in the nation.

"Good, I'm tickled to death that that is the case," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said when we told him our findings. "That is the reason we're a well run state. We hire the best people we can possibly hire. I will defend that all day long."

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) hired Frizzell as his chief of staff more than three years ago, promoting him from his previous position of communications director. Our analysis of state salary data revealed being the right-hand man for the second ranking leader in the State of Tennessee comes with a nice salary.

According to state salary records, Frizzell is set to make $173,628 this year, which is almost three times as much as Lt. Gov. Ramsey's salary and only $8,000 less than Gov. Bill Haslam's salary.

Frizzell is also set to make roughly $8,000 more than Gov. Haslam's Chief of Staff Mark Cate. In fairness to Frizzell, he is in charge of four times as many employees as the governor's chief of staff, but when you compare him with people across the United States with similar titles it is not even close.

We spent weeks reviewing recent salary data from every state in the nation and found no one in the United States with the same title makes as much as Frizzell. In fact, our analysis revealed Frizzell makes $70,000 more than the average lieutenant governor's chief of staff and more than most governors' chiefs of staff.

"I don't care," Lt. Ramsey said of the comparison. "I don't care. I want to hire the best and I have and I'm tickled to death I did."

Take one look at Lt. Gov. Ramsey's organizational chart and you'll see Frizzell has plenty of responsibility. Ramsey says every penny taxpayers spend on Frizzell's salary is money well spent.

"There's not a day goes by, even out of session, that I don't call him for some kind of advice," Ramsey said. "He is the (chief operating officer) of a big company, about 150 employees. I live 300 miles away and he runs the day-to-day operations, whether a secretary needs a copier machine or something breaks or tears up with the facility, he's the one that makes those decisions when I'm not there in consultation with me of course on most of those."

Ramsey says Frizzell's management of staff allows him to do what he loves most.

"I love setting policy for the State of Tennessee," he said. "I think we're doing a great job of running the state and improving education and on and on but when one secretary is fussing, because another secretary's computer is two years newer or we're trying to decide if we should buy 12 ounce Styrofoam cups or 16 ounce Styrofoam cups for the cafeteria, that's the kind of stuff I don't want to be involved in. I'm more worried about whether we can pave our roads in the State of Tennessee...I'm more worried about kids graduating high school and going to college than whether there's a $10,000 difference in somebody's salary somewhere. I think that's the kind of stuff I don't want to be involved in."

If anyone finds an issue with Frizzell's salary, Lt. Gov. Ramsey says they should give him a call. The founder and president of the Nashville Tea Party may just take Ramsey up on that offer.

"That's a big salary," Ben Cunningham said after we shared our findings with him. "That's a lot more than most Tennesseans make. People can live much more comfortably in Tennessee on a $100,000 salary than they could in New York for example or California."

Cunningham says the Nashville Tea Party prides itself on holding government accountable. He says he believes the thousands of members of the organization he founded will find this information interesting to say the least.

"We don't have to pay the kinds of salaries they do in other states, because the cost of living is so low," Cunningham said. "You would expect that our salary levels would be lower...You have raised a very important point here and I think we as taxpayers, it's incumbent on taxpayer groups like ours to look into this and to make a judgment about whether or not this salary is excessive. We as taxpayers have got to examine this information and see whether or not the money is being wisely spent."

Lt. Gov. Ramsey's office argues Frizzell's salary is not excessive. Despite telling us he didn't care what other state's pay, after our interview with Ramsey, Tennessee General Assembly's Director of Legislative Administration Connie Ridley sent us an email.

"Salary data we collected from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that the average salary range for Chiefs of Staff across the country range from $110,000 to $180,000 and is consistent with our structure here in Tennessee," Connie Ridley said.

Ridley also argued Frizzell isn't the highest paid, telling us the two chief assistants who work for California's senate president make more than him. We checked and state records show those two people do make more than Frizzell. They each take home $183,480.

However, we originally focused on the chief of staff position for California's lieutenant governor. A spokesperson for that office told us the chief of staff position for California's lieutenant governor is currently vacant. However, she said the person who last held the job made "$10,309 per month," which is the equivalent of $123,708 a year.

Regardless, Ridley argues Ramsey isn't your typical lieutenant governor. After all, he not only is next in line to be governor if something were to happen to Gov. Haslam, he also holds the title of Senate Speaker, which she says is the equivalent of Senate President.

"He is in many ways a legislative and executive hybrid," Ridley said. "Any comparison of Ramsey to other Lt. Governors will be inherently flawed, as would a staff comparison. Lt. (Governors) across the nation have notoriously few constitutional duties. And, appropriately, they have limited and less qualified staff. Lt. Governor Ramsey's constitutional duties come from his role as Senate Speaker (the equivalent of a Senate President or President Pro Tem). But even a comparison to other Senate Presidents across the nation is slightly flawed as Ramsey is first in line of gubernatorial succession."

That said, we quickly found several other states (Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia) where lieutenant governors have similar job duties. In every case, their chiefs of staffs make much less than Frizzell.

Ridley also argue Tennessee has a different approach when it comes to hiring.

"Tennessee prefers to keep costs down by hiring fewer, more efficient staff to do more work in order to keep overall costs down," she said.

Ramsey says his office completed a salary study when he took over as lieutenant governor roughly eight years ago and he says everyone is paid based on that study.

Records reveal when Ramsey's first chief of staff left almost four years ago, Matt King was making a salary of a little more than $147,000, which is $26,000 less than Frizzell makes today. In fairness, King had fewer years of experience with the state and two fewer degrees than Frizzell.

"Education and experience do play a significant role in salary determination," Ridley said. "The position of Chief of Staff of the Senate is a high-level executive position akin to a corporate chief operating officer. As Chief of Staff, Mr. Frizzell oversees in excess of 60 Senate full-time employees which include custodial, secretarial and professional staff. In (addition), he is responsible for the legislature's joint services staff of more than 75 full-time employees in addition to seasonal employees hired to assist in the operation of each legislative session. The joint services offices include the Office of Legal Services and the legislature's IT operation. It is important to note that Senate offices manage constituent issues year round and the Senate has nine standing committees many of which meet throughout the summer and fall when the legislature is 'out of session'. Legislative salaries are determined not only in terms of duties and experience but with an eye toward retention. Mr. Frizzell's salary is competitive with salaries for comparable positions both inside and outside of government."

Frizzell's boss says there's nothing wrong with paying someone what they deserve.

"Making money is a good thing," Ramsey said. "The reason my previous chief of staff left and there's one reason simply, more money. Lance could leave tomorrow and could make more money than he's making for me. Lance is one of those people I can call him, shut the door and say, 'Okay, what do you think about this? I want your advice.' Never once has he steered me wrong, I haven't always agreed with him. There are times I've said that's not the direction I want to go, but everybody needs a person like that."

According to Ridley, there are no records of any disciplinary actions against Frizzell. We requested comment from Frizzell, but were only provided with his biography.

"(Lance is) absolutely a good employee," Ramsey said. "He's done an excellent job for four years."

Top five paid chiefs of staff or comparable positions for lieutenant governors (Massachusetts' lieutenant governor position is currently vacant):

State

Lt. Gov. Chief of Staff Salary

Tennessee

$173,628

Rhode Island

$166,189

Utah

$154,936

Massachusetts

$140,861

Alabama

$138,304.80


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