“Public employees’ salaries are public records”

Update Continuing a chain-wide push, the Gannett paper in Lansing, Mich., is also publishing salaries of state employees. The search could be better, but the data set is clear and easy to use. The newsroom is getting thousands of page views and drawing praise and scorn. Samples:

this is such an invasion of privacy. It wouldn’t be o.k. to just list the titles
and the salary range?? You people have gone too far.

and

Way to go LSJ!! There is nothing wrong with sharing this
information with the public – it’s their legal right to know. Besides, I love
reading the State employees’ replies – priceless.

The paper published an opinion piece defending the data release. The author, Jane Briggs-Bunting, is a media law expert and herself a state employee:

It remains vitally important the citizens of this state know down to the
penny what we are paying all of our employees. We are still a government of the
people, by the people and for the people. It’s not the state of Michigan, Inc.
Every taxpayer in the state is a shareholder.

Bottom line: State employees, including me (an MSU faculty member), all work
for the people of Michigan. Any member of the public should be able to walk in
the door of any state, county, city, village, township, university or school
district office during regular business hours and ask for this very same
information and receive it.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act requires this information be public, as
it should be. Too bad we need a law to ensure the people get to see at least
some of the people’s business, but we do – or this information would never have
been released.

Original post The Washington Post has joined the Houston Chronicle and The Washington Examiner in publishing salary data for public school employees (see example, from Janney Elementary School). It’s all part of a school scorecard (which, aside from salaries, is similar in some ways to the Philadelphia Inquirer School Report Card). Eventually, every local news organization will make all this data public as a matter of routine. For now, it still draws some complaints. Here is how Deborah Howell, the Post ombudsman, reacts to the issue:

But some teachers are upset that their salaries were disclosed; some
said the salary figures are wrong. Dan Goldfarb, a teacher at Banneker
Academic High School, said publishing the figures is "offensive,"
invades his privacy and "is totally unnecessary."

While that
anger is understandable, there is a higher good to be served here –
accountability. There is no way to assess how each school is doing
without looking specifically at what is spent. If the names are veiled,
it is harder to hold individuals as well as the District accountable.

Public
employees’ salaries are public records. When someone is paid with
taxpayers’ money, that salary is liable to be made public whether
you’re the president of the United States
or the county dogcatcher. (It’s possible I’m inured to this from being
married to a longtime educator whose salary was frequently published.)

The
Post regularly prints the salaries of others whose records are public,
such as highly compensated executives of publicly traded companies –
obtained from the Securities and Exchange Commission — and the salaries of executives of nonprofit organizations, which must file tax records to keep that status.

The
compensation figures are what the school district budgeted for each
staffer, and many include 15 percent added for benefits; that was added
to the Web graphic Monday. Those who see inaccuracies should e-mail dc-schools@washpost.com
so the graphic can be amended. The map invites readers’ help. Readers
already have alerted The Post about issues to follow in later reporting.

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