Don't detach names from government salaries
What's more fun than a database where you can look up how much your school superintendent is paid or what that annoyingly gruff DMV worker down the street makes?
On the other hand, it's not that much fun realizing that the information resources director at a certain state agency who recently refused to answer my questions makes more than double my salary.
Either way, it's difficult to think of a journalist or a citizen interested in government transparency who would be okay with a ban on publishing the names of employees next to their compensation information.
And yet that's what state Sen. Steve Martin (R) is trying to do in a bill that was sent to the FOIA Advisory Council on Tuesday for review. Martin says it's too embarrassing for rank-and-file employees to have their earnings exposed, potentially subjecting them to public humiliation.
"It’s kind of like one of these things, you say, oooo, I didn’t want to see that, I don’t want to know what my neighbor makes, I don’t want to know what my fellow choir member makes," Martin told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
Maybe most people have a much stronger sense of privacy than I do, but I'd be surprised if that's the typical reaction of taxpaying citizens whose jobs make the jobs of government employees possible.
Sensitive to the push-back against his bill, Martin is trying to soften the ban by exempting elected officials and governor appointees. But that assumes that those are the only people who may earn more than they should. Workers often receive lots of additional compensation beyond their salaries in the form of overtime, bonuses, expense reimbursements and unvouchered expense payments. Without names attached to those earnings, it would be difficult to track total payments to a specific employee.
It would also make databases like the one launched by the Richmond Times-Dispatch illegal. The newspaper made it easy to search for and view the salaries and names of all employees paid with public dollars, if they're above the $42,648 average. It chose not to publish the salaries below that average -- but the point is that it could have.
I agree with Sen. Martin that most government employees don't want their compensation to be publicly available. I wouldn't, if I were in their shoes. But that's the price you pay to work for the government -- and receive a guaranteed pension, I might add.
Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.
Paige Winfield Cunningham
| February 2, 2011; 4:17 PM ET
Categories: HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, economy
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