With much still to do, lottery organizer faces criticism over salaries
With Tennessee's new lottery set to begin in just three months, Rebecca Paul has a lot to do and little time to do it.
Paul and her senior staff must hire contractors, test software, rent offices, hire hundreds of people, train retailers and build a computer network. And those are just the highlights.
To get everything done by Feb. 10, Paul works from 9 a.m. to midnight nearly every day - a schedule that hasn't left time for cultivating political ties and relationships with state leaders.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, who appoints the board that hired her, attempted to set up a meeting between the two several weeks ago, but Paul couldn't attend because of a previous commitment.
"I'm busy starting a lottery at the moment," Paul said in a recent interview.
Paul says she would be happy to meet with the governor anytime he wants but has no plans to initiate a meeting herself.
"I don't think I need to determine what that relationship is," she said. "What the governor wants it to be is what I want it to be."
Paul and Bredesen's relationship - or lack of one - was highlighted last month when the governor complained that Paul, who previously served as chief of the Georgia lottery, was hiring too many former staffers at high salaries. Three executive vice presidents were hired for $180,000 each, plus unspecified bonuses.
"I'm anxious to get on with the business of starting up this lottery. I think we've accommodated what she wanted, but I think enough's enough," Bredesen said.
Bredesen has also expressed confidence in Paul's ability and expects the lottery to begin on time.
"But I do want to have a relationship, and the way she conducts herself certainly reflects on me and my administration," he said. "(It) certainly reflects on the state of Tennessee. And, you know, I've got an interest in that."
Along with dealing with complaints about her staff's pay, Paul also has faced criticism about her own - which could total $752,000 with bonuses. Editorial pages of newspapers across the state regularly include letters from upset Tennesseans.
"I will not buy lottery tickets in Tennessee as long as a dime of it goes toward paying the obscene salaries that Ms. Rebecca Paul and her staff are looting from the students of Tennessee," Don Tracey of Portland wrote Oct. 25 to The Tennessean in Nashville.
"We have multiple winners in the Tennessee Lottery before any tickets have been sold," R.S. Phillips of Memphis wrote to The Commercial Appeal. "The winners are Rebecca Paul ... and the rest of the people who have been selected to run the lottery. Their salaries are obscene."
Not all the letters are negative, though. A recent one published in The Tennessean urged people to "get off Rebecca Paul's back."
Don Peterson of Nashville wrote, "This is not a corner grocery store operation. When you are dealing with millions and millions of dollars, you don't hire the pizza delivery boy because he works cheap."
Paul is unapologetic about the money she and her staff are being paid. Her top executives got about a 20 percent increase in their previous pay, an amount she says is typical of private business.
"Every day we start earlier than someone without experience would have done will mean close to a million dollars a day in profits for education," Paul said, adding her salary likely will be paid for by noon on the first day tickets go on sale.
Paul compares her salary to other high-profile jobs connected to state government.
"I kind of look at where I am as a basketball coach or a football coach at one of the universities," she said. "(University of Tennessee women's basketball coach) Pat Summit draws people into that stadium, which makes money for the university."
In any case, Paul said she will be vindicated after one year when people see what she and the lottery will accomplish.
She points to separate editorials written in Florida and Georgia, where she also led lottery startups, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of those games.
The Miami Herald, in an editorial dated Aug. 16, 1988, wrote that Paul could "take a bow" for proving wrong critics who worried a delayed startup would lower profits from the games. The lottery beat the startup deadline, the paper reported, and by six months in, sales had nearly doubled projections.
"Ms. Paul's hard work and driving style of management have dispelled the doubts," the editorial read.
"I hope some newspaper in this state writes the same editorial," Paul said.