Salaries must not be measure of value

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
June 13, 2010


Tennessee is now officially a basketball school.

That was just one of the nuggets I picked up from the News Sentinel’s list of Highest Paid Public Employees last week. Even 30 years ago, when Tennessee’s men’s basketball team went two rounds into the NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols won the SEC championship and the football team went 5-6, it was unfathomable that Don Devoe or Pat Summitt would be paid more than John Majors.

The times, they are changin’.

That wasn’t the most glaring nugget I gleamed from the list, however.

And it was far from the most important.

If money is how we measure our value or the rarity of the skills necessary to perform a job, the positions at the University of Tennessee must be pretty valuable or require some rare skill sets.

And using the same measuring stick, we must not think very much of the elected offices in Knox County, or they require little skill to perform.

Predictably, 78 of the 100 positions on the list are University of Tennessee jobs. It only makes sense. UT is the second largest employer in Knox County. It probably employs a large number of the people making $10 an hour and $30,000 a year, too.

But for a community that loves its Appalachian autonomy, small gub’ment, leave-us-alone independence, we sure have a lot of people with big public salaries.

The per capita income in Knox County is around 29,000. The average annual income of the 100 highest paid public employees in Knox and Anderson Counties is $333,118.

As interesting as what jobs are on the list are those that aren't.
What does it say about those?

No where on the list is an elected officeholder. Not a mayor or sheriff. Not a judge. No councilmen, commissioners or clerks.

Of course, the value of take-home cars was omitted from the reported public income of our local elected officials. Not sure about lobster-lunches-to-go.

Please don't make the argument that our local legislative offices, city council and county commission, are part-time positions. Ask anyone who has ever served in those roles. They are anything but part-time positions, yet each position earns about $19,000.

The weightlifting and stretching coach for the UT football team makes $225,000.

I'm certain that no one in the City County Building could teach an offensive lineman the proper way to vertically explode through a power clean. I am, however, convinced that nine of the top ten names on the Highly Paid Public Employees list could understand the proper role of a school board or how to decide if a trustee's office is overstaffed.

It's the same reason rap singer Ludacris makes $10 million a year and the highest paid Knox County school teacher makes $55,000. I don't even know who or what a Ludacris is, but there are 3,718 teachers - just in this county.

And there is, apparently, only one Ludacris. I'm guessing he can't teach English, but he must be able to do something that those 3,718 dedicated public servants can't - or won't - do.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

Click here to subscribe to MCM commentary.

MCM website