Sep 08 2015

Kiawah Faces Questions On Staff Salaries

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer

Following the May resignation of Kiawah’s longtime Town Administrator, Tumiko Rucker, Treasurer Kenneth Gunnells, and the subsequent forensic investigation into allegations of misappropriated town funds, Kiawah is now searching for replacements for these key positions.

At recent Town Council meetings, an increasingly engaged electorate has been asking more and more questions of the Town, specifically what safeguards are being put in place to prevent history repeating itself, and whether the Town is paying higher than necessary salaries to its employees.

In an interview with The Island Connection following the Town’s release of its forensic audit results, Mayor Lipuma said one of the reasons for not renewing Rucker’s contract prior to the allegations of financial misconduct, was “she had a very generous contract, and there was a feeling we should let that run its term.”

During the public portion of an executive session held on August 17, 2015, Lipuma responded to resident Wendy Kulick’s question about the salary range being used to court a new administrator as “$90,000 to $126,000.” Kulick replied pointing out the range is potentially higher than Rucker’s previous base salary and about the same or more than the governor of South Carolina. Rucker’s base salary was $96,000.

According to letters signed by Rucker her total compensation for 2014, including “salary, overtime, fringes, benefits and bonuses” was over $137,659. The Town of Seabrook pays its administrator the same base salary, according to information obtained by a Freedom of Information request. The same position on James Island pays $65,000 (according to

Faye Allbritton, Town Clerk of Seabrook, makes about $17,000 more than Kiawah’s town clerk. However, Allbritton’s role also includes Seabrook’s accounting, eliminating the need for a treasurer’s salary. Former Kiawah Treasurer Kenneth Gunnell’s salary for 2014 was $113,549, according to Rucker.

Residents had raised concern over the salaries paid to Kiawah’s Town staff prior to the forensic audit. Retired Presiding Municipal Judge of Hudson County, N.J. Dennis McGill submitted a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the Town last winter after hearing that Kiawah’s attorney had litigated and appealed a municipal case, then drafted legislation, all over a $200 fine. Using data obtained through that FOIA, McGill approached council during a town council meeting last winter and argued the town’s attorney, administrator and treasurer were over compensated.

The Town [Kiawah] has two retainer agreements with its attorney. The first ‘Employment Agreement’ pays him an annual salary of $45,000 for a minimum of 30 hours per week. The second, an ’Office Space and Services Agreement’, [pays him] an additional $2,057.29 per month for office space, equipment, supplies and administrative staff in support of work [from] his home. How this monthly figure was arrived at and why it is necessary has not been explained, nor how those two retainers add up to $80,000.00 [per year],” McGill said.

For comparison, Seabrook contracts with Young Clement Rivers LLP for legal services and has paid $79,000 for those services over the last five and a half years. Kiawah also uses YCR for labor and court cases.

None of these figures reflect overtime paid to employees. Rucker told McGill in an email sent February 27, 2015, that her total compensation included, among other things, overtime. Recently, The Island Connection contacted the Town asking for the amounts paid, rates paid and the number of hours of overtime worked.

However, councilmember Mary Johnson responded saying this request for public information would cost the requester $165 per hour to fill and would take approximately 14 hours.

In addition to working overtime at the Town, Rucker also had two other jobs outside of her work for TOKI.

Information found at in the form of tax documents (form 990 filed by 501 c(3) charities) indicate Rucker had been working at both the Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care and the Sea Island Development Fund in varying capacities since 2012. Filings for 2013 documented a combined total of 50 hours a week worked and over $56,000 in compensation.

When asked about these roles, prior to her resignation, Rucker confirmed her outside employment saying she was doing it in her spare time, that the mayor and council were fully aware of it and that it had no impact on TOKI or its staff.

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