MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
A state lawyer said Thursday there is no basis in law for bonuses former Secretary of State Brad Johnson wanted to give top staffers. As a result, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who beat Johnson in the November elections, said she would put a s t o p o n t h e p ayme n t s. McCulloch earlier put a hold on issuing the $58,000 worth of performance bonuses for Johnson’s former executive staff. “That legal decision was not at all ambiguous,” McCulloch said. Johnson authorized the payments before leaving office, but they were scheduled to be paid in January. The individual performance awards ranged from $3,502 to $8,755. Johnson said the bonus schedule was set up before the November election, and he assumed he and his team would still be running the secretary of state’s office. He said the bonus would also have served as an incentive heading into the second term. “I’m disappointed,” Johnson said. “I simply tried to do the right thing for a group of folks who had worked real hard and performed really well for the office and the state.” Johnson said he never sought a formal legal opinion, but believed research done by his executive staff found the bonuses to be perfectly acceptable. “This has been a frustrating experience because we really did think we were on solid ground and I thought we were doing the right thing,” Johnson said. McCulloch, previously the state schools superintendent, said she has never heard of executive staffers getting bonuses on the way out the door. “When I first heard of these, my initial reaction was that they must be illegal,” she said. Mike Manion, chief attorney fo r t h e De p a r tme n t o f Administration, issued his opinion Thursday saying the payments are not legal. DOA is in charge of the state payroll. “Based upon the available information, the awards, if paid, would violate the legislature’s intent as expressed in (law),” he wrote in an 11-page opinion.