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More than 100 Rhode Island employees made more than $200,000 last year

Top 10 earners include correctional officers, state hospital doctors, and the URI men’s basketball coach

University of Rhode Island head basketball coach David Cox, left, with a player during a 2018 game in Amherst, Mass.
University of Rhode Island head basketball coach David Cox, left, with a player during a 2018 game in Amherst, Mass.Jessica Hill

PROVIDENCE — Correctional officers, state hospital doctors, and the University of Rhode Island’s basketball coach were among the highest-earning state employees in 2020, with some of them taking home salaries of $300,000 or more.

The Globe asked the state Department of Administration for information on the 100 top earners on the state payroll in 2020, and received a list of 101 names – with a judge and a magistrate tied for the final slot.

All 101 state workers earned more than $200,000 last year, and nine made more than $300,000. They include 31 employees at the Department of Corrections, 23 at URI, 18 who work for the state judiciary, and 12 who work at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

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Governor Gina M. Raimondo didn’t make the list — she brought home $145,755 last year, according to the state transparency portal. And while the Department of Health has been the focus of the state’s pandemic response, DOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott also finished outside the top 100, with a salary of $143,000.

The highest paid state employee was URI men’s basketball coach David M. Cox, who received $722,688 last year.

The Department of Administration categorized $282,500 of his earnings as “overtime.” But URI spokeswoman Linda A. Acciardo said the coach did not earn any overtime pay. Rather, in addition to a base payment of $315,188, he received $225,000 as a guaranteed portion of gate receipts for home games, $125,000 for participating in athletic events and functions, and other categories of pay, she said.

“It is common at Division I state institutions across the country for the basketball or football coach to be the highest paid state employee,” Acciardo said.

Cox is in his third year as coach of the Division 1 basketball team, which has a 7-8 record this season after losing to Duquesne on Wednesday. URI finished 21-9 and third in the Atlantic 10 conference during the 2019-20 season, which was suspended because of COVID-19.

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The payments to Cox don’t come close to the millions made by coaches such as the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari ($8.16 million) or Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski ($7.25 million).

But Cox is making far more than URI football coach James M. Fleming, who ranked 14th among the highest paid state workers with earnings of $283,500 last year. And Cox earns nearly four times as much as the URI women’s basketball coach, Tammi Reiss, who received $190,000 in 2020, according to the transparency portal.

The second-highest-paid state employee was URI President David M. Dooley, who last year announced that he will retire in June 2021 after 12 years in the job. Dooley received a salary of $403,142.

University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley
University of Rhode Island President David M. DooleyURI photo by Joe Giblin

Meanwhile, Community College of Rhode Island President Meghan L. Hughes made $267,337, and Rhode Island College President Frank D. Sanchez made $263,351.

URI’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, Donald H. DeHayes, was the eighth-highest-paid state employee, with a salary of $300,429.

And William E. Von Nostrand, a URI neuroscience professor and co-director of the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, ranked ninth after receiving $300,043. That total included a salary of $247,857, plus a $50,000 supplemental payment from private, donated funds, Acciardo said.

The third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-highest-paid state employees work at the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which runs the Eleanor Slater Hospital. With campuses in Cranston and Burrillville, the hospital provides care to patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs.

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Purvi Chokshi, a BHDDH doctor, received $378,701, including $169,386 in what was categorized by the Department of Administration as “overtime.”

Brian P. Daly, the department’s chief medical officer, received $371,236, including $89,315 in “overtime.”

Pedro F. Tactacan, the department’s chief of psychiatric services, received $309,432, including $26,297 in “overtime” and $56,908 in “other” payments.

Andrew P. Lekos, another BHDDH doctor, received $304,190, including $90,890 in “overtime” and $1,224 in “other” payments.

BHDDH spokesman Randal Edgar said doctors are not paid overtime. Rather, they are paid to take on additional hours because Eleanor Slater Hospital must have 24/7 coverage, he said.

“It is important to note that the number of physician shifts that must be filled does not change,” Edgar said. “The state pays the same amount whether many doctors work additional hours or only a few work additional hours. In the case of 2020, with the pandemic, there were fewer doctors working additional hours to provide 24/7 coverage. This meant that a smaller pool of doctors worked additional hours. But again, this did not change the amount paid by the state.”

The BHDDH director, A. Kathryn Power, failed to make the top 100 list, with a salary of $151,705, according to the transparency portal.

The seventh-highest-paid state employee was Mark E. Wilbur, a corrections officer who made $302,076. That total included a salary of $73,454 and overtime of $218,998.

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Errol L. Groff, a corrections officer, rounded out the top 10, with earnings of $283,726, which included a salary of $76,947 and overtime totaling $210,607.

The Maximum Security Facility of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections
The Maximum Security Facility of the Rhode Island Department of CorrectionsRhode Island Department of Corrections

Department of Corrections spokesman J.R. Ventura emphasized that overtime pay is regulated by the state’s contract with the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers union.

“Our principle concern is the safety and security of people here, and overtime unfortunately is necessary because of the circumstances under which this agency operates,” Ventura said. “It is a 24/7 agency, and people take vacations, call out sick, and things happen during a shift that require extra hands.”

The department’s main concern is filling those daily posts, he said, and the union contract dictates who fills those positions, allowing officers to bid for posts based on seniority.

“You have to understand the incredible amount of hours that people are working, and they are working hard,” Ventura said. “This is not easy money.”

The pandemic has had an impact on scheduling and staffing, he said. Since the outbreak began, 1,064 inmates and 288 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, while two inmates and one staff member have died. But he said overtime has always been needed to run the state prison system.

The Department of Corrections director, Patricia A. Coyne-Fague, did not make the top 100 list, with a salary of $155,250, according to the transparency portal.

Derek Gomes, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, said the state might be able to tap federal funds to cover some payments made to state employees.

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“As federal guidance on the use of stimulus money is constantly evolving, we are looking at all possible ways to maximize the value of these stimulus dollars in battling COVID-19,” he said. “There are certain jobs that are eligible to be paid with (Coronavirus Relief Funds), but there is no federal mandate to do so.”

The state will aim to maximize every dollar of federal aid, Gomes said. But, he said, “It could take several months before final determinations are made as to which expenses, including those related to personnel, will be paid with (Coronavirus Relief Funds).”

The list of the 100 highest-paid state employees concluded with a tie between Superior Court Judge Richard A. Licht and Domenic A. DiSandro III, chief magistrate of the state Traffic Tribunal. They both made $204,255.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.