Prison official gets extra pay for Bethel duty while living at home in Eagle River

A state prison official is continuing to draw a 50 percent salary boost for a Bethel assignment even though he hasn’t worked here for more than 10 months and is living in his own home in Eagle River

By Lisa Demer
Alaska Dispatch News

BETHEL — A state prison official is continuing to draw a 50 percent salary boost for a Bethel assignment even though he hasn’t worked here for more than 10 months and is living in his own home in Eagle River.

L. Dean Marshall, a career Department of Corrections employee, was named acting director of institutions in December 2014 and temporarily reassigned to Anchorage, where he is still working, according to the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations.

Marshall’s annual salary of $167,892 includes a 50 percent geographic differential attached to his position as superintendent of the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center, according to figures provided by the personnel division, part of the state Department of Administration.

Marshall also collects long-term meal reimbursement from the state of $30 per workday for being on assignment to Anchorage while living in his own home, according to state officials.

The higher salary and money for living expenses are provided for under the supervisory union contract, said April Wilkerson, director of administrative services for the Corrections Department. But he doesn’t collect lodging or car expenses while living in his Eagle River home.

Both the pay and the benefit are automatic under the union contract, officials said. Marshall did not seek out the higher salary or apply for the long-term per diem payments, said Leslie Ridle, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration.

“It just automatically kicks in,” she said of the per diem. “He didn’t have to apply for it.”

In fact, even if he for some reason didn’t want the extra money, he couldn’t just refuse it, Ridle said. The union would have to sign off on that through a formal letter of agreement.

“There would have to be a sort of mininegotiation to make that happen,” she said.

Without the salary assurance, employees might be reluctant to disrupt their careers to fill in elsewhere, said Pete Ford, business manager for the Alaska Public Employees Association, which includes the union for supervisory employees.

"It would chill a person's enthusiasm for taking on a temporary assignment that is presumably of benefit to the state," Ford said.

If an employee for some reason asked to forgo the extra salary, the union would consider it, but would want to ensure the employee did not feel pressured and that no precedent was set, Ford said. Other employees shouldn't feel uncomfortable about being in a similar situation, he said.

Marshall is a long-standing corrections official, the union leader noted.

"He's been a real trouble-shooter for the department and he's been a go-to person for this administration and the prior administration," Ford said.

As to living in his own home, many state employees based in rural Alaska keep a house in Anchorage or nearby, Ford said.

Marshall declined to be interviewed and referred questions to administrative officials and Sherrie Daigle, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

“Acting Director Marshall is a valuable member of the Corrections team and he continues to make positive contributions wherever he is assigned,” Daigle wrote in an email.

Marshall is in a unique position, according to the personnel division, which checked payroll records. No other employee currently is collecting extra cost-of-living pay while on assignment to a city with lower salaries, the division determined. Nor is anyone collecting expense money for meals while living long-term in their own home, the Administration Department found after checking with various state departments.

Others have gotten the benefit in the past, Ford said.

Some employees may be collecting expense money in the short term while in their own homes, Ridle said, but that data is scattered across agencies and difficult to collect.

“It’s totally legitimate,” she said. It’s expensive and time-consuming to manage meals when you’re visiting your own town, she said.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin took heat while running for vice president in 2008 for a similar situation. The Washington Post reported the state had paid her per diem for stretches to live in her own home in Wasilla while she was governor and stationed in Juneau. State officials later determined she owed taxes on the per diem payments.

While the director’s job comes with responsibility over all Alaska prisons, it pays far less than the Bethel superintendent post because it is based in Anchorage and does not include any cost-of-living increase, Wilkerson said. Marshall’s predecessor, Bryan Brandenburg, made about $128,500 as a division director in 2014. Wilkerson’s annual salary, for a job based in Juneau with a 5 percent geographic increase, is just over $129,000.

Under the supervisory union contract, an employee on temporary assignment is paid the greater of the salary for the interim position or the permanent duty station.

“You keep whichever is higher,” Wilkerson said.

She said that Marshall still has a home in Bethel and is responsible for utilities there.

An employee with an interim assignment can’t commit to the new location and may need to return to their permanent duty station, Wilkerson said. Employees don’t have to accept interim jobs, she said.

Marshall was picked to serve as acting director of institutions in December 2014, when Gov. Bill Walker took office. But he’s been in limbo for months. First his boss, corrections commissioner Ron Taylor, had to be confirmed by the Legislature, which happened in April. Then, before any permanent decision on the director’s job was made, Walker announced a major safety and operational review of the Corrections Department, which has been under scrutiny after a string of inmate deaths.

Taylor was in an acting role himself when he asked Marshall to step into a crucial vacancy, Wilkerson said.

“He did a review of all the superintendents at that time,” she said. “Mr. Marshall has more than 36 years (in the department.) He has been a superintendent in multiple facilities, which is why he was selected and asked to go into an acting capacity.”

Some rural jobs are hard to fill even with the higher pay, Wilkerson said.

Marshall, 58, started working for state in 1972 as a teenager in a custodial job, left for five years, and then in 1978 became a correctional officer. He worked up to superintendent at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and held the position for a dozen years before transferring to Bethel in 2012.

While based in Bethel, Marshall also was assigned for nearly a year to work as acting superintendent at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska’s only maximum-security prison.

Marshall collected the Bethel pay bonus while stationed in Seward, too, Wilkerson said.

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