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Barksdale comments on Christensen appointment

Upon announcing the appointment of Brent Christensen to the directorship of the Mississippi Development Authority, Gov. Phil Bryant recalled joking about the salary with current interim chief Jim Barksdale.

“I told (Barksdale) I would double what Leland Speed was making,” Bryant said. “Leland was making a dollar a year.”

The governor has an eye for the ironic.

Leland Speed took over as interim MDA chief after then director Gray Swoope was hired by a Florida economic development firm for more than twice his current salary.

Speed was replaced as interim by Barksdale after Bryant came into office.


Barksdale met with the media today to comment on the recruitment of Christensen including some of those salary negotiations.

“We worked hard on this,” Barksdale said. “The first job in January I was given was to recruit my replacement. It was my duty to get that done.”

Barksdale said he found many in the economic development community who favored Christensen.

“We realized the reason we lost our last very effective director- he was recruited away from us by a public-private partnership that was able to pay him more than twice what Mississippi was paying through our compensation program,” Barksdale said.

The former Netscape and FedEx executive said he pushed the new pay program through the state legislature because the MDA hiring process needed to be competitive.

“I come from the world of business and executives are recruited based on what it takes to pay the executive, what others are paying and what it costs to recruit and retain the talent you need,” Barksdale said.

“It’s got nothing to do with what you think the person should make but what the market says they should make. The reason the price of eggs are what they are is because that’s what eggs are worth in a free market. The price of people is the same way.”

Christensen’s compensation package includes:

  • The maximum amount of money that the state can pay for his salary is $183,000 a year, one-and-a-half times the governor’s salary.
  • A supplemental performance-based bonus of up to $47,000 based on how well Christensen meets Gov. Bryant’s economic development objectives.
  • A $15,000 relocation allowance is also included. Christensen currently lives in Gainesville, Fla.
  • A car is also provided, a historic provision for MDA directors that only Speed rejected.

“If we had not been able to do that then we wouldn’t have been able to pay (Christensen) more than what he was making in Florida,” Barksdale said.

“It was a necessity. Several other states do it this way. We do that within the state for several jobs. That’s how we pay our football coaches so much money in this state.”

Christensen will start his new job in early June.

Florida giveth just as Florida taketh away.

About Stephen McDill

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