State economic development director gets third year of $30K retention bonus

Other state agency heads at their top salaries did not get bonuses in fiscal 2013

Erin Jordan
Published: January 3 2014 | 5:40 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:36 am in

Iowa’s economic development director has received more than $120,000 in bonuses over the last three years, including annual retention pay one lawmaker says thwarts a salary cap set for her position.

Debi Durham’s fourth $30,700 bonus was approved in June, with twice-monthly payments of $1,180.77. This is an extension of a similar arrangement for fiscal 2013, which brought her compensation for that year to $185,193.

The legal salary range for her position is $100,840 to $154,300.

“There are unique circumstances to provide additional compensation based on employee performance,” said Jimmy Centers, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham is one of the hardest-working employees in the state of Iowa. Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds appreciate her service and dedication.”

Centers did not immediately respond to a question about whether Durham had met specific goals to earn the bonus.

Other state agency heads at their top salaries did not get bonuses in fiscal 2013. Chuck Gipp, Department of Natural Resources director, stayed flat at $128,890 and Mike Carroll, head of the Department of Administrative Services, received his max salary of $154,300.

Some directors received raises ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said Durham’s bonus sends the wrong message at a time when some Iowans are losing unemployment benefits.

“If she’s really worth the salary, do a study, see what the market will bear and make that the base salary,” he said.

Branstad appointed Durham to lead Iowa’s economic development efforts in November 2010. Prior to that, she served as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in Sioux City. She ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, with Republican Doug Gross, but Gross was defeated by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority has secured some major projects in recent years.

Google and Microsoft have built data centers in Iowa and Facebook is planning to do the same on 200 acres in Altoona. Egyptian-owned Orascom is building a $1.8 billion fertilizer plant in Lee County, although some Democrats have said the deal was poorly researched and cost the state too much in incentives.

DuPont Pioneer recently promised a $50 million expansion of its Johnston facilities.

Durham received nearly $53,000 in travel and subsistence payments in fiscal 2013, which was the third-highest amount among nearly 60,000 state employees.

Her out-of-state travel included week-long trade missions to Brazil and Chile, Europe and China as well as trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Montreal.

Durham’s travel expenses were $73,000 in fiscal 2012.

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