Former U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner (2003-2013) will become president of the University of South Alabama at the first of the year to the tune of $525,000 a year, according to his now-public employment contract. In addition to the presidential salary that more than doubles his income, he will be receiving numerous other benefits, such as cost of housing, a moving stipend, state education retirement, a vehicle allowance and paid travel expenses.
During a meeting on Dec. 2, the USA Board of Trustees gave preliminary approval to a five-year contract with Bonner and empowered its board Chairman Jimmy Shumock to sign the agreement upon its completion. No details could be officially released at the time of the meeting, except that it would resemble the contract of former president Tony Waldrop.
Bonner’s contract was made public Tuesday morning and shows it had been finalized on Friday, Dec. 10. Shumock initially expected the contract to be ready as early as Friday, Dec. 3. A spokesperson for the university said that timeline was optimistic and it did not get finalized for another week. He said this was normal in higher education negotiations such as this.
Bonner, who stepped down as Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff to accept the appointment as USA president, told members of the media following the Dec. 2 meeting he believes the trustees “could not have been more fair.” According to the Alabama Open Checkbook, Bonner made $216,204 working in Ivey’s administration in 2021, meaning his USA salary will be a 143 percent increase.
The extent of Bonner’s education is limited to a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama, something which critics have been quick to point out. Bonner has openly acknowledged the challenges presented by his educational background but believes the extent of his non-traditional experience in politics and economic development more than qualifies him as an appropriate selection for the job. According to Bonner, there were more than 100 initial candidates for the USA presidential job. USA’s search committee narrowed this down to eight semi-finalists and then further down to three finalists. The South Alabama BOT voted 11-2 in November to select Bonner over Dr. Damon Andrew, a dean and professor at Florida State University’s College of Education, and Dr. Michael Tidwell, a past president of the University of Texas at Tyler.
In 2013, Bonner stepped down from his role in Washington, D.C., to accept a job with the University of Alabama System as vice chancellor of economic development, where he made $359,000 — doubling his congressional salary at the time of $174,000.
Records and news articles show Bonner left the system at the end of July 2018 to work with the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority, where he’d been serving as interim director since December 2017 while also receiving his full UA salary. He received two more monthly payroll payments after leaving the system.Bonner employment agreement
Terms of Bonner’s presidential contract layout that he will be subject to an annual review by the South Alabama board of trustees. Based upon his performance and a salary review, Bonner could be eligible for a salary increase each year as well as any year USA’s general employees receive pay raises. His salary will not be reduced unless there is a reduction in the salaries of general employees.
In addition to inclusion in the Teachers Retirement System of Alabama, Bonner will receive an annual $18,000 vehicle allowance. The payment includes mileage for university business of 30 miles or less. Any travel by private vehicle in his personal vehicle in excess of 30 miles will be reimbursed, according to standard rates.
Membership dues in undisclosed organizations and clubs will also be covered. The contract says these dues are subject to the USA’s compensation committee. Lagniappe requested a list of the organizations and the value of these payments. According to USA spokesman Lance Crawford, those discussions are ongoing with the committee and a final decision has not been reached.
Any employment-related itemized travel expenses will be eligible for reimbursements, in accordance with what legally qualifies. This includes the cost of airfare for the president and his spouse. If travel is longer than one-and-half hours, USA will cover the ticketing costs for first class if business class is not available.
Bonner will have four weeks of paid vacation per year and will accrue sick leave at a rate of 12 days per year.
As a condition of his employment, Bonner has agreed to reside at USA’s Presidential Residence located at 26 Oakland Ave. in Mobile and will receive a $10,000 relocation stipend. USA will pay for all utilities (water, sewer, power and gas), taxes, insurance, and expenses of maintenance and upkeep. Bonner will also be provided a fully outfitted home office. Bonner currently resides in Baldwin County.
Per the contract, Bonner is expected to use the residence for university-related business and entertainment on a consistent basis. All costs of entertainment will be paid by USA. At the end of employment with the university for any reason, Bonner has a month to move out.
During his tenure, Bonner is not permitted per his contract to receive compensation for non-university work, such as serving on for- and non-profit boards of directors, delivering speeches, writing, or consulting services.
Should the board choose to terminate Bonner at any time without cause, they must provide a 180-day prior notice and make a lump sum payment for all amounts earned or accrued and severance pay equal to the remaining base annual salary. He will be under no obligation to provide any additional services during those 180 days other than transitional work. During this six-month window, Bonner will be permitted to use his time to seek other employment. Termination for cause will disqualify Bonner from severance. “Cause” will include conviction or plea to criminal charges; reasonable judgment by the board that Bonner has failed to comply with USA policies; and reasonable judgment by the board that Bonner has failed in the duties of his office. Resignation will require a six-month notice from Bonner and will disqualify him from severance.
Review of payments to university presidents
Waldrop was paid $329,147 for his first nine months of work at USA in 2014, an amount that increased to $492,492 in year two, according to university spending records. Waldrop’s pay remained relatively flat in 2016, but jumped to $613,506 in 2017, including regular monthly payments of $41,588 and a bonus worth $132,790.
The next year it fell back to $569,916, then increased roughly $20,000 in 2019. In Waldrop’s last full year in office, in 2020, he was paid $574,552. Fiscal year 2021 records show he left with $467,892 for his final nine months of service. Waldrop’s total pay package of $4.13 million over 90 months represented about $45,910 per month.
According to payroll records from the University of Alabama System, UA Tuscaloosa President Stuart R. Bell was paid $815,185 in Fiscal Year 2021, which included a base salary of $710,185 and a bonus of $105,000.
Auburn University President George Jay Gogue made $893,850 in FY 2021. He made a base salary of $642,350 with a $250,000 bonus and a $1,500 one-time supplement.
University of Alabama Birmingham President Ray L. Watts was paid a base salary of $505,065 in FY 2021, plus bonuses totaling $210,000. In addition to $236 in travel pay, Watts received total compensation of $715,301.
The University of Alabama Huntsville paid now-retired president Darren M. Dawson $616,140.38 in FY 2021, including a $511,140.24 base salary and a $105,000 bonus.
Kenneth D. Kitts, president of the University of North Alabama, was paid $332,517 in 2021, with monthly payments of $29,342 from January to October and then two payments of $34,221 for November and December. UNA’s payroll records do not follow a fiscal year. He received an additional $2,252 in travel and meal expenses.
University of West Alabama President Kenneth Tucker made $257,500 in FY 2021 in addition to roughly $4,600 in travel and miscellaneous payments.
Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins was paid a salary of $691,245 in FY 2021 with an additional $30,000 designated as “Retirees – professional, PT,” for total compensation of $721,245.
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