Illustration by James Callahan
I have been thinking a lot about jobs and what makes them either good or awful. When I worked for Style Weekly, the building was falling down around us, you needed a hazmat suit to approach the microwave and I really considered my salary more of a stipend. I loved that job.
Years ago, I worked on Philadelphia's tony Main Line in a huge, gorgeous building where breakfast was put out daily, and I took two-hour lunches. I wound up helping the Secret Service take down the CEO for mail fraud. It was a terrible job.
There are so many variables to consider — pay, coworkers, job satisfaction, cleanliness of the restrooms — that I've decided to go with the simplest and best way to decide what makes a good job. A bad job is one that pays you until the day you leave, then stops. A good job is one that will keep paying you
months and even years after you are gone.
Needless to say, I have had only bad jobs.
But some lucky folks out there have very good jobs indeed. We've all heard of CEOs and their golden parachutes, which are irritating enough, but when that parachute is being funded by some of your tax money, and you're paying people who don't work for you anymore, well, that stings a bit more.
Take Chesterfield County, for example. Former Superintendent Billy K. Cannaday Jr. left his job as head of the county's public schools in 2006, but up until this year, he has still been collecting 20 percent of his $188,864 salary. In addition to that $37,772 annual chunk of change, he has also been contracted to provide 10 days per year of consulting work to the Chesterfield school district. For that work — and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported back in March that Chesterfield doesn't keep records of what Cannaday did or when he did it — he has collected more than $260,000. That's about $3,700 a day, folks. All the region's major school districts offer their superintendents deferred compensation, but Chesterfield is the only one with the consulting deal.
Of course, Chesterfield is one of the largest school districts in the state and is widely thought of as having terrific schools. In fact, my kids are in two of those schools. I am glad the district attracts major talent such as Cannaday and the current superintendent, Marcus Newsome. And I'm sure that these contracts make Chesterfield attractive to big-brain candidates. And yet, there is my fourth-grader, elbow-to-elbow with 28 kids in a rickety trailer where the bathroom door doesn't lock. So, yeah, it bothers me a bit.
But I'm sure that's nothing compared to how Richmond taxpayers feel knowing that it doesn't matter how badly you screw up, you will continue to rake it in after you leave. Richmonders are still paying severance and unused vacation time to former City Clerk Alvin Anderson, who was fired (he'll collect more than $68,000); former Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood, who resigned in February after the Chris Brown community-service incident (more than $67,000); and Carolyn N. Graham, former deputy chief administrative officer of human services, who resigned last December amid an investigation into the city's Department of Social Services (nearly $60,000).
At this rate, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that the governor's former chef, recently indicted on embezzlement charges, will collect thousands in severance pay and deferred baby carrots. So why, exactly, do employers offer this?
Richmond City Council President Charles R. Samuels explained it this way to the T-D: "There is a competition ... to try to get good people in positions."
That seems to be working very well for the city.
It may be a sound strategy for an employer, but to the taxpayer shelling out the cash, it feels a little like what that guy Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoons would say: "I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today," only backward. "I will gladly get paid today for a job I did three years ago."