State leaders deny deeper problem regarding state salary mistakes

Salary data folo

LANSING, MICH. - Days after Michigan state leaders provided wrong salary data for thousands of workers, executives at the Office for Retirement Services are clearing up any potential concerns over whether they are using incorrect figures to calculate pensions.
 
The 13 Watchdog team noticed on Friday March 24, that the salaries of many Department of Corrections employees were reported incorrectly to the non-profit watchdog agency Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  It turned out around 4,500 employees had inflated salaries listed in the state's response to the Mackinac Center's Freedom of Information Act request.

For example, the records show Lt. Charles Levens was the highest earner at the state taking home $408,334.44 in 2016. The data shows he received a nearly $120,000 raise from 2014 to 2016. 

The 13 Watchdog team talked with Lt. Levens on the phone Friday morning and told us he was shocked to see the high number because he actually earns 25% of what was posted.

The incorrect salaries were posted in a public database, hosted by a coalition of watchdog entities in the state including the Michigan Press Association, Mackinac Center For Public Policy and Michigan Coalition for Open Government.  The list includes nearly every public employee in the state.  The entities obtained the compensation data so taxpayers could "fact check claims about salaries, verify data from other open records requests, and hold government spending accountable."

We wanted to know whether the Office of Retirement Services (ORS), which is the under the state's Department of Technology, Management & Budget, was using the inflated salaries to calculate pensions.

ORS Spokesman Kurt Weiss said that was not true.

“The error that occurred in providing salary information to the Mackinac Center was not a function of having inaccurate salary data in our database," Weiss said. "Information in the retirement services database is accurate, which has been proven time and time again through multiple audits by the Office of the Auditor General.  The error occurred when we worked to provide data from multiple sources as requested by the Mackinac Center.  It’s important to note that of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of data we provided, less than 1 percent had errors.  When we realized a mistake was made in converting a small subset of the data for the FOIA request, we worked quickly to provide corrected data that same day.  Thorough reviews of record keeping is already part of the ongoing auditing process that occurs, through both internal and external audits.”

The news is not all good though for the ORS. The Michigan Office of the Auditor General released a new report last week showing the office didn't account for everybody in the pension system, understating the liabilities by $143 million. 

Leaders within the ORS indicated in the auditor general's report, the problem has been fixed for future years.

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