Who Cares How Much Don Smiley Makes?
Apart from the overt class warfare being pushed by the stories, let me raise the two fundamental questions: Who cares how much Don Smiley makes and why is it anyone's business?
Milwaukee World Festivals Inc ("Summerfest") is a private 501c3 organization. What this means is that Summerfest does not receive taxpayer dollars. As such, why should anybody (starting with the local newspaper) care what the Summerfest Board thinks is appropriate compensation for its CEO?
I recognize that one of the most popular parlor games around town is trying to figure out how much people make and then debate whether they're worth it? For example, since Journal Communications is a publicly traded company, it's not too difficult to find out how much the Publisher and Editor of the newspaper earn. Some people might think they're overpaid Some may feel they're underpaid.
The point though that the only opinions that really matter are the people who are responsible for setting their compensation level - even if every subscriber indirectly pays the salary of every person who works for the newspaper.
Three time failed candidate for Governor - and current Milwaukee Mayor - Tom Barrett is apparently outraged at Smiley's salary. Barrett wants his appointee on the Board (one of 26 members) to push for a yearly public vote by the full Summerfest Board on Smiley's salary!
Ideas like this demonstrate pretty clearly that Barrett- a creature of the public sector most of his career - really has no clue how things are done in the real world. Seriously, imagine trying to hire a high quality CEO without guaranteeing him or her what their future compensation package will be - or leaving it to the vagaries of yearly public debate?
I happen to think former Brewers pitchers Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf were overpaid. The owner didn't ask my opinion before signing these guys however because he wasn't spending my money (even though I buy tickets). I feel the same way about Don Smiley's salary - it's not any of my business.
Contrast this with the ongoing debate over the salaries of members of the Milwaukee County Board. Since as a taxpayer in Milwaukee County my taxes help pay Board salaries, I most definitely have the right to have some input.
It's my understanding that the Summerfest bylaws call for their Personnel Committee to determine compensation for all Summerfest employees. The recommendation of the Personnel Committee is then reported to the Finance Committee and approved or not approved for the following year's budget. This budget is then voted on by the entire Summerfest Board each December. As such, it's difficult to understand Barrett's claims of lack of transparency.
It's also worth noting that Smiley's 2011 compensation package included over $330,000 in performance bonuses earned over a four year period. Personally, I think it's more than reasonable to link compensation to accomplishments (as opposed to the salary of an elected official who gets paid regardless of whether or not they've done a good job).
Anybody who has been to Summerfest over the last few years has seen the vision of Don Smiley. New gates, new stages, new buildings, a new long-term lease and millions of dollars in new sponsorships. By any objective measure, Smiley's tenure has been a huge success.
And given this success, who really cares how much Don Smiley makes?
Especially Tom Barrett!