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The High Cost of Larry

Boise Police protection, millions of dollars in bennies

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Never mind the May 23 primary. For some in Idaho's business community and beyond, the real show will be later this month, when Albertson's shareholders meet in New York to vote on the Boise company's sale to SuperValu Inc. and a group of real estate investors.

For the companies, there's lots at stake: a multi-million-dollar corporation, hundreds of stores and thousands of employees. For Albertson's CEO Larry Johnston, there's plenty riding on the vote: depending on how you crunch the numbers, more than $120 million in benefits await him if shareholders buy in.

It's been a rocky road, with the Albertson's board of directors facing criticism over executive compensation, the company's poor performance over the last year, and the downgrading of the company's debt by investment ratings groups.

No wonder Albertson's paid the Boise Police Department more than $20,000 to get police officers to work overtime protecting employees at their Boise headquarters. For two weeks after the announcement of the Albertson's sale, said BPD spokeswoman Lynn Hightower, as many as 12 officers cycled through in plain clothes patrolling the grounds out on Parkcenter Boulevard in shifts of one and two officers.

"There was no cost to the taxpayers," Hightower said. "These were all officers acting on overtime. There was no loss to Boise citizens and no loss of service."

But while Johnston isn't going to get any "employee of the month" ratings in a jury of his fellow Albertson's staff, he might not have cause to worry, according to filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

As initially reported by the Idaho Statesman, Johnston is already due for an $8.8 million severance package. But in the fine print, it only gets juicier. The company is also on the hook to buy Johnston's Boise residence if he can't sell it himself. They'll also load the moving van for him: $100,000 is guaranteed Johnston for relocation. They'll help him find another job, too, for $50,000. Other incentive plans hand him $627,111 for other services.

All of these benefits enrage Boise attorney Kelly Beeman of The Beeman Group, LLC. He's been beating the drum of shareholder outrage, even though he owns no stock in Albertson's and is trying to reinforce the image of Johnston as a reckless CEO at the helm of a company in decline.

"I cannot think of one positive financial measure since he's been hired," Beeman said in a speech to the Boise Rotary Club last month. "He's simply not entitled to the type of pay he's getting."

Albertson's does not, as a policy, comment on compensation issues, a spokeswoman said.

As for the Boise Police Department moonlighting as security guards, it's not uncommon, Hightower said. While the BPD doesn't intend to compete with private security firms, some clients do want to have guards with actual arrest powers. Qwest Arena, for example, has already paid the city $7,700 to get officers to act like security guards, Hightower said.