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On-Line Database of State Employee Salaries. A good idea?

Recently the Denver Post published a searchable database of all state employees in Colorado. (The salary database is part of the Post's on-line Data Center, which publishes a wide variety of useful data.) The database provides the name and the job title of each employee. It does not include home or work addresses, social security numbers, or state employee ID numbers. In response to strong objections from advocates for victims of domestic violence, and other objections related to employee safety, the Post stated that newspapers in other states had published similar databases, and there had never been any safety or violence problems as a result. So here is my bleg: Do VC readers know of any safety of violence problems that have resulted from the publication of a person's name in an on-line database when: 1. the published information was already a public record (but was not previously available on-line), AND the publication did not disclose the person's address?

AntonK (mail):
Why only State employees? I'd like to see the names and salaries of everyone in our community. I consider the State no more beholden to me (in the context of compensation) than those private entities which I do business with.
6.11.2008 1:52pm
Snarky:
It could be a safety threat.

Knowing where someone works (which can sometimes be inferred by job title) can be useful for stalkers. Also, it should be kept in mind while the database does not store an exact address, it does store a general address. If an angry and vengeful ex was stalking someone with an unusual name, and happened to come across this database, they would know that their victim was in Colorado. They might even be able to combine this information with other information they know to infer exactly where they live. (i.e. hey know their ex has parents in Colorado, but they have previously denied that their ex was living with them.) All of the sudden, the name shows up in a database in Colorado...

Just as or more significantly, making this an online database greatly reduces the privacy of these individuals. Before, this information might have been "public" but it was not so easily accessible to intrusive neighbors.

I would propose a compromise. Instead of publishing specific data on all employees, the Denver Post should only publish data on employees in high level positions. For other employees, descriptive statistics concerning the salary would be all the information voters need to make decisions.
6.11.2008 1:55pm
Richard A. (mail):
AntonK: Private salaries are none of your business. Public salaries are paid with your tax dollars and you have a right to know.
As for the safety concerns: This is total nonsense. I know of a newspaper that did exactly the same thing as long as 15 years ago and no safety issues arose. These people should at least argue honestly and admit they don't want the public to know how much the public is paying them.
6.11.2008 1:56pm
Tobias:
I was just looking for something similar for Illinois. I know Illinois has one for Teacher Salaries (http://www.championnews.net/salaries.php), but I'm looking for something similar for all state employees.

As for the normative argument, I think it is only a problem if you are making a lot of money and don't want people to know. For the most part, seeing as how state employees make so little, I would expect it to be more embarrassing than dangerous.
6.11.2008 1:59pm
jccamp (mail):
I'm afraid I do not see a public safety issue either, by listing job description and salary. It's public record, available to anyone.

As for a newspaper publishing the list, or making it available on-line, I don't get that either. Is there a point? Or were they fishing for objections, so the non-story could become an issue?

I could envision some people on the list not wanting their true gross pay (did the list include, say, paid overtime for the previous year?) posted. I could also imagine someone who feared an ex-spouse stalking them. But if the public records law don't make provision for such an instance, I think the response is "Oh, well."
6.11.2008 2:05pm
Kirk:
Wouldn't publishing just the job titles and salary accomplish plenty? We could still learn exactly how lavish or penurious the state was being, and if we already knew who held a particular state position we could find out their salary, but there would no longer be the ability to fish for names.
6.11.2008 2:06pm
ABC:
This presumes an abuser or stalker knows what state someone has moved to, and that the person has not changed their name. If the targeted person now lives in a state far from where the stalker is, it then presumes that the stalker will have the means and motivation to cross state lines. If all these presumptions are true, then yes maybe there is a safety issue. Otherwise, I don't see the difference between this and old-fashioned offline data mining (FOIA requests, quarters for the clerk's office public copier, etc.).

(By way of comparison, New Jersey's Star Ledger and Asbury Park Press newspapers have online much more information than just state employee salaries - you can also find property tax records and campaign contributions. All of that is still public information, just now more convenient to get.)
6.11.2008 2:08pm
AntonK (mail):
Richard A. says, "...Private salaries are none of your business. Public salaries are paid with your tax dollars and you have a right to know."

I don't follow you. My tax dollars pay for public employees salaries, so I have a right to know what those employees are paid. My purchasing dollars pay for private company employee salaries, but those salaries are "none of [my] business." Hmmmm... odd.
6.11.2008 2:09pm
jimbo:
We had this at the University of Wisconsin. I believe it is now only available to on-campus IP addresses. We made the change because the ready availability of salary data made it too easy for other universities to poach our faculty.
6.11.2008 2:09pm
CDU (mail) (www):
I don't follow you. My tax dollars pay for public employees salaries, so I have a right to know what those employees are paid. My purchasing dollars pay for private company employee salaries, but those salaries are "none of [my] business." Hmmmm... odd.


You are not compelled to purchase any particular good or service, you are compelled to pay taxes.
6.11.2008 2:14pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
I would propose a compromise. Instead of publishing specific data on all employees, the Denver Post should only publish data on employees in high level positions. For other employees, descriptive statistics concerning the salary would be all the information voters need to make decisions.
Or they could just leave out the names.

A list of concealed handgun licensees got published in Ohio, including car tag numbers. Anti-gun folks took to carrying the list and calling the police to falsely report that the drivers were flashing their guns.
6.11.2008 2:14pm
Anon1ms (mail):
"Anti-gun folks took to carrying the list and calling the police to falsely report that the drivers were flashing their guns."

Do you have a citation or link for this?
6.11.2008 2:19pm
Dennis Nolan (mail):
This information has been available online in South Carolina for years. The daily newspaper in the state capital has a convenient link prominently displayed. I've never heard of any safety or violence problems resulting from publication and I'm sure any such incidents would have been well publicized.

Stalkers have more effective ways or tracking down their targets. They often know already just where the targets live and work. If they don't, family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and others do, so it's not hard to find them. Google yourself and you'll likely learn how easily someone can find your home and workplace addresses.

This argument strikes me as nothing more than a scare tactic fronting for less defensible objections like public employees not wanting to disclose their salaries or governments not wanting taxpayers know how their money is spent.
6.11.2008 2:27pm
Snarky:
It seems that some people do not understand the significance of making records more accessible.

No doubt, these records were accessible to someone who (1) knew where to look or was willing to invest the time to learn where to look and (2) was willing to invest the time to actually look.

One question I have is whether the Denver Post as least made an effort to ensure the information does not come up on Google so that when someone Googles someone's name, salary information does not come up.
6.11.2008 2:28pm
AntonK (mail):
CDU says, "You are not compelled to purchase any particular good or
service, you are compelled to pay taxes
."

Again, I don't follow: I don't see how the compulsion associated with taxation gives me a "right" to see the salaries of public employees. What's the connection between the 'compulsion' and the 'right'? And why doesn't my free choice to purchase a product confer such a right?
6.11.2008 2:31pm
Kirk:
ABC,

"Quantity has a quality all its own". Surely you aren't really saying that a many-orders-of-magnitude reduction is search cost will have no effect on the frequency of such searches, are you?
6.11.2008 2:33pm
PaulG:
Washington state has had such a website for year (www.lbloom.net). I have never heard of any safety issues.
6.11.2008 2:35pm
one of many:
Omitting the names should be enough to satisfy the safety concerns but still they are a bit far-fetched. Someone with enough motivation to actually harm someone and enough motivation to find them in an online database and enough motivation to wade through the names and job titles to determine which of the many similar names returned by the query of the online database is actually the person they are looking for and who has the motivation to go beyond the database to secure some means of locating said person who doesn't have enough motivation to check public non-online database sources, how many of those are we supposed to believe exist?
6.11.2008 2:35pm
FantasiaWHT:

For the most part, seeing as how state employees make so little...


You're joking, right?

I remember when I was in college, from 1998-2002, by name and address and phone number at college were available on the university website, and so were those of my friends at other schools, for the most part. Now they may have emails, but never anything else that I've seen.

I have no problem with any of this state employee posting. Freedom of information of how government is run (especially where it concerns how they're wasting our money) is essential.
6.11.2008 2:35pm
PLW:
Anton,

I think the point is more that you pay those salaries, so you have a right to know what they are, just like a business owner knows the salaries he pays to his employees. You might have an argument for stockholders in public corporations, though.
6.11.2008 2:35pm
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
In the old days, USDA published a telephone directory with the names, agencies, and phone numbers of all employees, and a separate organizational directory that covered the positions of everyone down to about GS-14 (some lower). With a little knowledge of the GS salary schedule one could figure out the general range of salaries of anyone.

Nowadays the organizational directory is on-line and you can search for the employee names and agency (not job title that I remember). Because the old Civil Service pay system is splintering, gauging salaries is harder these days.

Personally I don't see why such info isn't available for any government employee, but we should definitely publish the data for all supervisors.
6.11.2008 2:35pm
FantasiaWHT:
Got distracted, forgot to follow up on the incredulity.

Here's a Wisconsin one for teacher salaries in the Milwaukee metro area (6 counties). Just did a search for the high school choir teacher I student taught with. He just retired this year, making $70k + $36k in benefits. He is 55.

Milwaukee Metro school district salaries
6.11.2008 2:39pm
ejo:
illinois has (had?) one for Cook County employees. it is useful, just as it is useful to publicize the inflated salaries paid to school administrators.
6.11.2008 2:44pm
ejo:
I think antonk is just being obtuse. he has a perfect right to ask for the salaries of those he buys goods from-just as they have a perfect right to tell him to shove off and buy elsewhere. no one is stopping him or compelling him, unlike public employees paid for by tax dollars.
6.11.2008 2:48pm
One Man's View:
I'd actually like to see whether in its quest for transparency the Post is willing to publish a list of its own employees and their salaries :-)
6.11.2008 2:51pm
FantasiaWHT:
it is useful, just as it is useful to publicize the inflated salaries paid to school administrators.


Not just administrators. I just did some quick searching around and found that at the first 4 schools I searched, over half of the teachers were making at least $55,000 in salary alone.
6.11.2008 2:52pm
frankcross (mail):
It's not uncommon for state schools, I know the faculty of law profs has been published for Virginia, Michigan, William &Mary, Kansas, and no doubt many others.
6.11.2008 2:55pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
The Star-Ledger Database in New Jersey allows you to find the address of all homeowners in the state. You can do partial name searches. It includes what they paid for their house if they bought it in the last 10 years or so.

The people search services will give you more info for a few bucks.
6.11.2008 3:07pm
Kenvee:
I don't see why the benefits of this can't be accomplished by publishing the job title and salary (perhaps even years of experience) without the employee's name. That said, I don't think it's a serious security concern over what already exists.
6.11.2008 3:14pm
Illinois (mail) (www):
Illinois has released all salary info pursuant to FOIA for public employees, including state, city, and county employees. Here is the link.
6.11.2008 3:35pm
Ben P (mail):
Arkansas has had such a list for some time.
Unsprisingly,University Major Sports Coaches (football and Basketball) Deans of the University, and a few professors top the list.
6.11.2008 3:36pm
gab:
I want to know how much I'm paying Eugene!
6.11.2008 3:37pm
CPDL:
For some reason, I heard Professor Whitebread's voice (of Bar/Bri crim law fame) as I read the title of this post.
6.11.2008 3:59pm
The Ace:
Just looking at the comments, we are now compiling a list of professions not to enter if you move to try and avoid a stalker/domestic violence past. I would have no problem listing this information WITHOUT THE NAMES. What does the name of the aforementioned choir teacher ad to the data? Why can't the database say "Teacher - Music - white (for those who want to track that) - male - 30 years experience." The dataset is still helpful for those who think his salary is inflated.
6.11.2008 4:00pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Here in AZ, the property tax databases are online. So if you pay real property tax, it shows name, address, value of land and of house, recent additions, etc..

If taxpayers are online, can't see why taxpayees shouldn't be.
6.11.2008 4:07pm
one of many:
If taxpayers are online, can't see why taxpayees shouldn't be.because this is the US, and there's only one set of laws, that for those who govern and that for those who are governed. Wait, all men are equal but government employees are more equal. HMM, no it must be that the lives and safety of government employees is more important than the lives and safety of regular citizens, if we were to follow this absurd egalitarian ideal it would lead to arguments that killing a taxpayer should be punished as harshly as killing a clerk in the Social Security office, and what sort of madman would go along with that?
6.11.2008 4:18pm
kanchou (www):
Well, since I am required to file the 30+ pages California FPPC form 700 as a lowly county law librarian, I am in the view is that what's good for goose is also good for the ganders.

http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.html?id=234

Japanese National Tax Agency actually publishes an annual top individual tax payer list, without too much ill-effects.

Between the public disclosure of my salary and what's in FPPC form 700, my IRS forms don't reveal much more. Therefor, I am all for follow the Japanese model and publicize the IRS. If people know their co-workers, neighbors, and family members can access their tax return, then tax evasion would go down drastically.
6.11.2008 4:20pm
AnneS:
Fantasia - $55K for over half the teachers? I'm horrified. They pay their teachers enough to be . . . middle middle class.
6.11.2008 4:28pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
AnneS: $55K plus generous benefits is way above middle middle class (if you mean median), especially for an area like Milwaukee (to say nothing of $70K+). That would be above median household income just from that one earner.

I believe salary figures are at least that high in Michigan, too, which is probably why it's so hard for teachers to find jobs here.
6.11.2008 4:52pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
Someone thinks $55K is an inflated salary? No wonder our schools are in trouble...
6.11.2008 4:52pm
Pat Joy:
My salary, Grade and bonus information has been available on the Washington Post's website for 10 years. It is just part of being a Federal employee.
6.11.2008 4:52pm
DeezRightWingNutz:

Someone thinks $55K is an inflated salary? No wonder our schools are in trouble...


Yes, that must explain the huge shortage of applicants for midwestern teaching positions.

Anyway, back on topic (or at least closer)... do state agencies have policies typical of private employers that forbid disclosure of salary information to other employees? Does it matter if they're unionized?
6.11.2008 4:56pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

$55K plus generous benefits is way above middle middle class (if you mean median)...


She didn't mean "median," she meant middle class. But since you find this salary inflated, let me ask you--what salary would you settle for?
6.11.2008 4:56pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

Yes, that must explain the huge shortage of applicants for midwestern teaching positions.


In other words, the salaries are high enough to attract a lot of applicants? This is a bad thing?
6.11.2008 5:01pm
DeezRightWingNutz:

$55K plus generous benefits is way above middle middle class (if you mean median)...



She didn't mean "median," she meant middle class.


First, if middle middle class isn't median, WTF is it? Second, if you have a two earner household making $110K plus great benefits (say equal to $125K in most private sector jobs), thats probably closer to the top than the middle of the income distribution in the midwest. (i.e., >75th percentile).


But since you find this salary inflated, let me ask you--what salary would you settle for?


To teach in public schools? Depending upon the school, I'd take $55K.
6.11.2008 5:01pm
tired of blogs:
Teachers have to finish, generally, not four but five years of college and training to get certified, have substantially steeper continuing education requirements than many other kinds of workers, and often have masters' degrees as well. It shouldn't be surprising that their salaries are above average.
6.11.2008 5:03pm
vivictius (mail):
All of my States payscales are online and somewhere else there is a list of what range every position is. It is not all in one place, but it's all available.
6.11.2008 5:06pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Grover, my apologizes, because I find this intersting, but I don't want to keep the OT posts going, so this is my last response on teacher salaries.


In other words, the salaries are high enough to attract a lot of applicants? This is a bad thing?


It's an indication that the salaries aren't so low that they make jobs unattrative to potential applicants. It's an indication that the supply of teaching labor exceeds demand, and the price of labor (wages/benefits) exceeds the market clearing price.
6.11.2008 5:08pm
Smokey:
...it is useful to publicize the inflated salaries paid to school administrators.
Sure is. Mrs. Smokey has been a middle school principal for seventeen years. Her base salary excluding benefits is $105,000/year. The two most senior teachers in her school get a base salary of $106,000/year each -- with better medical benefits than administrators.

As for the safety issue, the mere fact that someone is paid a salary does not, by itself, put them in danger. That's just an off-the-cuff argument against letting the taxpaying citizens who foot the bill know what they're being forced to pay for.

I would love to have the light of day shined on the pay & benefits of everyone sucking on the public teat. How else are citizens to keep any kind of control over spending and entitlements of our tax money?

I would be willing to compromise, however, on redacting individual identities, as long as the total number of public employees in each job are listed, along with all compensation paid.
6.11.2008 5:10pm
Virginian:
To keep beating the dead horse of teacher salaries...

Sure, $55K is hardly a princely sum, but it is also not poverty wages that justify the amount of whining we hear about "low" teacher salaries. And remember, that's for 10 months of work a year.
6.11.2008 5:18pm
KenB (mail):
My guess is that the primary users of such a database will be state employees themselves, trying to find out how their compensation stacks up against that of their peers. And it will be a tremendous boon to equal pay suits.

Of course, diminishing the opportunity for state agencies to tweak he employees around is a good thing. It is trite but useful to remember that information can be power.
6.11.2008 5:23pm
SMK (mail):
The Boston Herald does this for Massachusetts government employees (scroll to the bottom for the database link). There are no ill effects except for the occasional splenetic Howie Carr column.
6.11.2008 5:28pm
D Palmer (mail):
The Illinois school salary database is very illuminating (the data base is currently unavailable, but I have used nit in the past).

Teachers at some small rural districts continue to get paid wages comparable to fast food counter people. But in the north shore Chicago suburb of Evanston, pratically every teacher at the local high school makes over $100k per year. Not bad for 9 months work.

So much for the poor underpaid teachers.

Oh, and for the record, my mother, father, and an aunt were all public school teachers. My father starting in the mid 60's making $3k per year. So spare me the notes about how many hours teachers put in.
6.11.2008 5:35pm
AnneS:
My point is that $55K is hardly overpaid for someone who probably has a master's degree or the equivalent, plus a few years experience. In fact, it's a pretty typical salary for experienced teachers. And while there is no shortage of humanities and language teachers, there is a critical shortage of qualified math, science, and special ed teachers all over the country, which indicates that the average salary is too low to fill these positions.

I hate when teachers (or any white-collar professional, really) whine about their pay, and I'm married to one. But I also find the faux shock at experienced teachers being paid (gasp) a whole $55K ridiculous.

On the topic of the thread, I question why it is necessary to include names, but don't think there's a safety issue. If I were a public employee in Colorado, I'd be more worried that salesmen and acquaintances would use the information for improper, or at least extremely irritating, purposes, than that it would make it easier for a stalker to ifnd me.
6.11.2008 5:54pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
The discussion on teacher's salaries is off topic.

On Topic: to answer David Kopel's question, no I do not know of any other instances of such a database or their effects.

However, I am against publishing the names of the state employees. I fail to see why their names are relevant for public disclosure. Job titles, salaries, benefits, and possibly demographic information (race, age, gender, etc.) can and probably should be posted as part of the public record. Yet, why are the names relevant for any public purpose? If one is to make a claim about inflated public servant salaries, then that can be done without naming the employee— after all, it is the salary that matters in that instance. If one cares about affirmative action, then the race/age/gender information is relevant, but not the name.

In the end such a database that includes the names of the employees only serves to increase snooping rather than any legitimate purpose. Just take out the names.
6.11.2008 6:12pm
D Palmer (mail):
The teacher salary stuff is not completely off topic. It illustrates why such a data base is worth maintaining, which is to get some sense of what our tax dollars are paying for.

But that doesn't address the safety question.

I don't see how the information adds risk to the employee. If it included an address sure. A determined stalker already knows the home and/or work address of his victim.

In the case of spouse abuse, I would assume that the abused spouse would have changed their name anyway to avoid being found, in which case discoling it on the database doesn't do anything to help the abuser find them.
6.11.2008 6:16pm
Public_Defender (mail):

As for the safety issue, the mere fact that someone is paid a salary does not, by itself, put them in danger. That's just an off-the-cuff argument against letting the taxpaying citizens who foot the bill know what they're being forced to pay for.


Which state "forces" you to live there? The argument is even weaker for local governments. The quality of local government is one of the factors many people use to decide where to live, and you often have a lot more choice over local government than over, say, which local newspaper to subscribe to, which cable service to buy, etc., etc., etc.


. . . $55K plus generous benefits is way above middle middle class (if you mean median). . . .


Didn't one of the conspirators recently leave a job after whining that it was just too difficult to raise a family on $167K a year? If his judgment is sound, then teachers must be impoverished at a mere $55K.
6.11.2008 6:20pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):

The teacher salary stuff is not completely off topic. It illustrates why such a data base is worth maintaining, which is to get some sense of what our tax dollars are paying for.

Fine, such a database can allow a debate on teacher's salaries, but the thrust of the post is on the use of names and the possible security risk. Debating on whether or not "$55k" is enough for a teacher does not touch on the security issue. Further, such a debate can be conducted without a database of names.

The security risk to the employee is this: if a person knows the name of a person, they can find their department (a global search of all departments is an option).Then they can find the work address realtively easily by other means (like Google).

Say I am looking for Person X and find that they work for the Auraria Higher Ed. Center. That is all the information I need to find out what department they work for, and from there I can google the department for the address. I can now solicit, stalk, or otherwise harm that person.
6.11.2008 6:37pm
autolykos:

Just looking at the comments, we are now compiling a list of professions not to enter if you move to try and avoid a stalker/domestic violence past. I would have no problem listing this information WITHOUT THE NAMES. What does the name of the aforementioned choir teacher ad to the data? Why can't the database say "Teacher - Music - white (for those who want to track that) - male - 30 years experience." The dataset is still helpful for those who think his salary is inflated.


Ace - You clearly don't live in Chicago. While the information you mention is instructive in a lot of cases, it omits information that is extremely important in policing government entities. For example, while I might raise an eyebrow if you tell me 35 year old black woman is an administrative assistant in Cook County making six figures, my reaction will be entirely different if I learn that person is Todd Stroger's cousin.

As for the security issue, it is a little bit absurd. Any person with a more than minimal knowledge of the legal industry knows how much lawyers at large firms make. On the website of most large law firms, you can find the year of college graduation (which generally lets you figure out age with a fairly high degree of certainty), year of law school graduation (which generally lets you figure out salary with a high degree of certainty) and in many cases, the firm even posts a picture. Add that to the fact you know where the person works (since the firm tells you what office they're in and what the address of that office is) and you'd think the security issue was a lot higher, but you don't hear lawyers complaining/worrying about it.
6.11.2008 7:43pm
whit:
i've said this a million times before. the war on domestic violence results in more bad law, and more civil rights violations than the war on drugs.

fwiw, sure there is a small chance that a stalker could find that info helpful.

so frigging what? that's the price we pay to live in a free and open society.

if you can get the info through FOIA, then there is no reason why you can't publish it and make it available to others.

fwiw, if you know a person's name and DOB, you can access their address in most counties via a simple voter registration database search. that applies to all citizens, not just public employees

also, anybody willing to spend a little money with intelius, etc. can find out tons of this info too.

a local newspaper every year researches the cops who make the most money through overtime, then prints their salaries and names as if its some sort of scandal.

FOIA is FOIA. if you don't want your name and salary to be public, don't work for the govt. period.

DV is not an excuse to do away with the rights of citizens, and one of those rights is FOIA requests.
6.11.2008 7:46pm
whit:

However, I am against publishing the names of the state employees. I fail to see why their names are relevant for public disclosure. Job titles, salaries, benefits, and possibly demographic information (race, age, gender, etc.) can and probably should be posted as part of the public record. Yet, why are the names relevant for any public purpose? If one is to make a claim about inflated public servant salaries, then that can be done without naming the employee— after all, it is the salary that matters in that instance. If one cares about affirmative action, then the race/age/gender information is relevant, but not the name.

In the end such a database that includes the names of the employees only serves to increase snooping rather than any legitimate purpose. Just take out the names


how can i put this bluntly? ok here. people have the right to snoop. cops do it. you have the same right.

that includes knowing what your local govt. employees names are, and what they are paid. people who don't want to be PUBLIC EMPLOYEES shouldn't work for the public.
6.11.2008 7:47pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
The names are important for the purpose of ferreting out cronyism.
6.11.2008 7:58pm
Crane (mail):
Constructively Reasonable -

If I'm looking for Person X, sites like White Pages and AnyWho are much more useful than some online database that just gives their job title and salary.
6.11.2008 8:25pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Constructively - while it's not relevant in the average public employee's case, one of the ways to hide well-paid crony appointees is to make them part-time employees in several different jobs simultaneously. Taking out the names removes the ability to readily discover that. Taking out the names also removes the ability to discover ghost workers.

Nick
6.11.2008 8:40pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
In my city my pay rate is a public record, as are the websites I visit from work -- anyone can come in and request either one, any time they want. During my interview they flat-out said "if your neighbors or your friends or anyone else wants to find this stuff, it's very easy, and by the way we get those sorts of requests all the time." Given how incredibly lazy most people are, I'm willing to bet that the number of sinister searches of an online database isn't significantly higher than the number of sinister requests over the phone, through the mail, and in person.

Of course, if I was a credit reporting agency or a private investigator, this would make me mad, but not out of concern for anyone's safety.
6.11.2008 9:18pm
TruthInAdvertising:
How many of these databases have actually resulted in ferreting out cronies, reductions in pay, changes in public spending, etc.? I'm one of those people who will dig through online databases but this strikes me as one of those tools that "sounds good" but has little or no impact on the practices that such a tool is supposed to curb.
6.11.2008 10:07pm
Floridan:

Larry A: "Anti-gun folks took to carrying the list and calling the police to falsely report that the drivers were flashing their guns."

Do you have a citation or link for this?
[sound of crickets]
6.11.2008 10:27pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
I must agree with TruthInAdvertising. This database does not actually offer substantial proof that cronyism exists in any particular instance. For example, unless the employee has a peculiar name, the government can always say that the multiple John Smiths in various part-time employees listing are actually multiple people. Thus, any investigative reporter or anyone else looking to be a governmental watchdog would probably use the FoIA to get the information from the source.

whit: Transparency on the operation of government is a right of the people. Since when, however, do people have a "right to snoop"? When the "cops do it" without probable cause and/or a warrant (depending on the circumstance), it is a violation of a person's constitutional rights. Further, if a person really wants the information (for example, when they expect cronyism) the information is still public, he just needs to show some particularity in what info he wants for an FoIA request.

So, please give me a legitmate reason to post the names.
6.11.2008 11:27pm
autolykos:

How many of these databases have actually resulted in ferreting out cronies, reductions in pay, changes in public spending, etc.? I'm one of those people who will dig through online databases but this strikes me as one of those tools that "sounds good" but has little or no impact on the practices that such a tool is supposed to curb.


Again, it happens in Chicago all the time. The most prescient cases are with Todd Stroger and the blatant corruption and cronyism he has shown while running Cook County, which the Chicago Tribune runs stories on routinely. If the Trib had to do a FOIA request every time they wanted to check that, at the very least it would be considerably more difficult and time-consuming.


Transparency on the operation of government is a right of the people. Since when, however, do people have a "right to snoop"?


I don't know why you're characterizing it as "snooping". It's interesting only because of the fact that American society still has such a taboo against disclosing what a person is paid, but that's certainly not the way it has to be. Regardless, the dichotomy you're trying to draw between transparency and "snooping" is a false one. While I'm sure some people seek out the information only out of voyeurism, monitoring government requires that the rest of us know what government is spending its money on. For those who actually are interested in knowing where our tax dollars are going, a FOIA request is a terrible substitute for readily available information.

As has been written about on this site many, many times, the amount of energy people expend to get educated is incredibly small, and many (most?) are rationally ignorant. Most people just aren't going to go to the trouble of doing a FOIA request in order to get the information. I doubt the average citizen has the first idea of how they would go about doing such a request or what the legal parameters are even if they wanted to.
6.12.2008 12:33am
Constructively Reasonable (www):
<blockquote>
I don't know why you're characterizing it as "snooping". It's interesting only because of the fact that American society still has such a taboo against disclosing what a person is paid, but that's certainly not the way it has to be.
</blockquote>
But again, the debate on public employee salary does not need to include the employee name. I do not live in Chicago, but I seriously doubt that the Tribune uses some free web service for it's stories. They would want better proof to lampoon the notoriously corrupt Chicago system. Any shortcuts would tend to allow for plausible deniablity. Thus, it is highly likely that the use other means (FoIA or good ol' investigative digging). Certainly the reporters know of FoIA (but I cannot speak to their education or rational abilities).

I care deeply about how tax money is spent. I can find many means to give me an accurate picture of the whole of any one government's budget and easily find waste. No method requires me to know how much Bill the janitor makes at the Department of Agriculture.

Finally, if most people are too lazy to get educated and go through the trouble of a FoIA request, then why would they care about what the government is doing? Ironically, people spend more time on voyerism (e.g. myspace, facebook, etc.) than caring about the operation of government. Therefore, it seems that the more likely use of the database will be for the former than the latter.
6.12.2008 1:34am
Malfend (mail):
CR> Oh come on now. One of the best reasons to have free speech is that it provides a check on government propaganda and control. Now, in reality, how much of what is said or expressed goes toward the greater good? Do you really need the right to burn the flag or wear a t-shirt with a Swastika? Is the kind of free speech that would bring down Watergate?

Of course not. Yet it is allowed. And for good reason and principle. It is the aggregate of these freedoms that allow the occasional expression that does change things for the significantly greater good.

Now, to the salary database question...You're right, you knowing Tim the Janitor's salary isn't going to make you, personally, more civic minded. However, it might make John the McDonald's Janitor jealous. And maybe John will look up other salaries and a) realize he can get better pay and benefits by doing the same work for the government, thus bettering his ability to pursue liberty and happiness. Or b) next time the union lobbyists come around, he'll be a slight more skeptical of their claims. If the result of the database is to make people more sympathetic/cynical of government work, then the accumulation of these attitudes is something that can affect government significantly.

For you to require that Average Joe looking up a salary be something earthshatteringly civic minded is strange reasoning.
6.12.2008 4:32am
Public_Defender (mail):
As much as I dislike the snooping factor, the database could actually help some public employees. That's because even though our salary is legally public record, public employers sometimes threaten any employee who seeks to get the records because employers want a monopoly on salary knowledge. If the information was in a database that could be accessed without going through the government, employees might actually be able to access the information.

But there is a nosy-neighbor factor that's a little creepy. There's also a difference between making the information available for anyone who asks and making it available on the Internet. Courts are facing the same questions with court records, which are all public, but which contain all sorts of information people wouldn't want on the Internet (for example, victims' names and addresses, and all sorts of information about potential jurors).

Making the information available on the Internet by position and salary, with names available by request, seems like the best balance. The public can see what it's paying for. Highly paid officials will be obvious. Journalists, bloggers, and citizen activists can get the information they need to look for cronyism.

As to payment, we have only one local newspaper, but many local governments. People have a lot more choice as to local government than they do as to newspapers. I'd love to see the newspaper respond by publishing the salaries of its own employees. After all, who will vet the vetters?

All that said, I realize that the newspaper has every legal right to publish the information. This is about how far the paper should go in exercising its rights.
6.12.2008 5:18am
Eli Rabett (www):
Most companies and institutions work very hard to keep salaries secret. If you know what the wastrels doing the same job are getting they lose leverage. It would be interesting to see the difference between salaries in comparative universities that publish and do not publish salaries.

With other state positions it is less interesting as salaries are kept within fairly narrow bands by policy, although, as was pointed out above, this is changing.

Finally, if you don't want to pay taxes move to Somalia. So I don't really see why private companies salaries should not be a public record
6.12.2008 9:15am
Jeff the Baptist (mail) (www):
How many of these databases have actually resulted in ferreting out cronies, reductions in pay, changes in public spending, etc.?

It happens a fair bit. For instance 2nd Amendment advocates often cross correlate CCW license databases with campaign donor records. In may-issue states, these often have high correlation indicative of Cronyism. I believe this has resulted in a move to shall-issue in several states.
6.12.2008 9:24am
whit:

whit: Transparency on the operation of government is a right of the people. Since when, however, do people have a "right to snoop"? When the "cops do it" without probable cause and/or a warrant (depending on the circumstance), it is a violation of a person's constitutional rights. Further, if a person really wants the information (for example, when they expect cronyism) the information is still public, he just needs to show some particularity in what info he wants for an FoIA request.

So, please give me a legitmate reason to post the names.


people do have a right to snoop. SPECIFICALLY with the government, but also in general

as long as the information is publically available, they have the right to snoop

period. you may not LIKE it, but that's part of being in a free society.

if your neighbor wants to go online and check your marriage records, your assessor records, your voter registration, etc. he can.

that's his right.

and if you are a public employee, you have no right NOT to have your salary and name published.

deal with it
6.12.2008 10:10am
whit:

When the "cops do it" without probable cause and/or a warrant (depending on the circumstance), it is a violation of a person's constitutional rights


specifically, this is false as well.

cops need a warrant to search in areas where people have an expectation of privacy. they do NOT need a warrant OR PC to investigate though.

now, it is certainly wrong for cops to just RANDOMLY snoop. otoh, there is no such prohibition against citizens. but this is a common mistake i see - cops do not need PC to snoop or search or surveil.
6.12.2008 10:12am
Runnin' Rebel Law (mail):
Great timing of this article given the Las Vegas Review-Journal just posted searchable database of salaries for all employees of UNLV http://www.lvrj.com/news/unlv_compensation.html. It has actually been available on UNLV's website for awhile http://hrfs.nevada.edu/hrweb/.
6.12.2008 10:13am
Malfend (mail):
"Who will vet the vetters?" You have a choice to either buy or not buy your newspaper. You have a choice to invest in your own or a competing newspaper. You do not have a choice in deciding who paves your roads, collects your taxes or investigates your doings.
6.12.2008 10:38am
whit:

"Who will vet the vetters?" You have a choice to either buy or not buy your newspaper. You have a choice to invest in your own or a competing newspaper. You do not have a choice in deciding who paves your roads, collects your taxes or investigates your doings.



and notice this is not just about newspapers. any private citizen can publish the same list, on the web, in a newsletter or whatever.

this is no special right of journalists. it's the right of every citizen.
6.12.2008 10:39am
TruthInAdvertising:
"It happens a fair bit. For instance 2nd Amendment advocates often cross correlate CCW license databases with campaign donor records. In may-issue states, these often have high correlation indicative of Cronyism. I believe this has resulted in a move to shall-issue in several states."

Great, so I'm sure someone can provide a citation that demonstrates this? Someone claimed that it was used in Chicago to ferret out cronyism. But if such a database exists in Chicago and cronyism still takes place, it doesn't seem to be a very effective tool for that purpose. Putting these databases together costs tax dollars too. One would think that there would be some ability to demonstrate some actual value from that expenditure.
6.12.2008 10:57am
Chad:
The Des Moines Register has been publishing a database of State of Iowa employee salaries for many years without incident.
6.12.2008 2:42pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My response to the worry about safety is that the government is not, and should not be, run for the benefit or convenience of its employees.

As to public school teacher's salaries, keep in mind that they typically work 9 months of the year, and more importantly, have far better retirement, at a much younger age, than their peers in the private sector. Where else can you retire at a large percentage of your salary at 50 or so, and have that retirement pegged to inflation (or better) for the next 40 years or so. This huge unfunded mandate is likely to seriously affect the well being of our children and their children.

Of course, public school teachers are not the only ones to benefit this way. In a week where I saw that CA was facing a huge deficit this year, I also noted that it was apparently routine in parts of its highway patrol, for its top management to get themselves declared fully disabled at 100+K a year, and then take private sector jobs that require more mobility, etc. than their CHP desk jobs did.

This is not a condemnation of most, or even many, public servants, but rather to point out that public service can, and often is, abused by a small percentage of those involved.
6.12.2008 6:29pm
whit:

My response to the worry about safety is that the government is not, and should not be, run for the benefit or convenience of its employees


correct. there are advantages and disadvantages to various careers, and to public vs. private sector employment.

public employees are JUST that. public employees - whether elected, appointed, etc. and civil service or not.

my name and salary is public record, as it should be.

and that should be the case for any public employee with very rare exceptions (undercovers come to mind. i had to file with the SSA to work undercover and get paid under a different name, etc.)

if a person doesn't want their salary and name to be public, DON'T WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT.

that simple
6.12.2008 7:34pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
"It happens a fair bit. For instance 2nd Amendment advocates often cross correlate CCW license databases with campaign donor records. In may-issue states, these often have high correlation indicative of Cronyism. I believe this has resulted in a move to shall-issue in several states."

Great, so I'm sure someone can provide a citation that demonstrates this?
One example.
Larry A: "Anti-gun folks took to carrying the list and calling the police to falsely report that the drivers were flashing their guns."

Do you have a citation or link for this?

[sound of crickets]
Sorry, I have a day job (which I'm about to lose, unfortunately. Budget cuts suck.)

I read this in a dead tree pub, not on line. I tried to find an e-pub but failed. Sorry.
6.13.2008 12:11am
TruthInAdvertising:
Thanks for the lecture. But I'm still looking for any evidence that these databases have ever been put to use for the reasons that some claim that they are or evidence that they've led to a change in behavior in government. Spending money to put this information online with the only benefit being that employees can compare salaries or neighbors can review an employees pay hardly seem like judicious use of taxpayer dollars.
6.13.2008 12:16am
Michal R (mail):
Yeah, TIA, you tell them! It has nothing to do with principle of government by the people...We should also make people prove that they have a need for self defense before they can own a gun.

Sheesh, with mentalities like yours, it's no wonder government is getting bigger all the time. Why should a citizen have to give you or anyone else a reason for accessing information on activities and resource allocation that their tax dollars pay for? I can say firsthand that I know people in government who have used these newspaper-run databases to compare salaries and petition for more. I've known non-government people get irate at the salaries their government peers make; will that make them vote for politicians who have platforms of smaller government? Who knows, I'm not following them into the polling station.

If you're asking for proof that this kind of information can result in Constitutional amendments, again, go take a hike. No one has to prove anything to you according to your ridiculous standards.

As for "spending money" to put this up...Are you daft? The OP was about a database put up by a newspaper. The newspaper is hosting the database and provided the front-end for accessing the data. Did it cost money to export payroll into a spreadsheet format? Possibly. In those cases, agencies charge fees, just as they do if you FOIA information that comes out in a paper print out.
6.13.2008 4:05am
TruthInAdvertising:
Many of these databases are government run which means taxpayer dollars are involved. All I'm asking is whether such a government-run database actually accomplishes the public purpose that its claimed that it does. That's no different than asking whether a road project or defense project is actually going to accomplish the stated goals for the money spent on it. Why you're getting your panties in a bunch about that line of questioning is beyond me.
6.13.2008 10:09am
Karl Lembke (mail) (www):
As a person whose name shows up in a searchable database published by a newspaper, I have the following thoughts.

1) The salary paid to my job class is public record. Anyone who wants to can look it up. All the newspaper did was make it easier for people to do so.

2) The people who really care how much I make already know.

3) The newspaper published the database to make the case that City employees were being paid more than private-sector employees doing the same work.
(Jerry Pournelle twitted me about this fact, and I told him the pay difference was compensation for my loss of privacy. I don't know if that's true, but he's enough of a privacy fiend that it was a successful twit-back.)

4) I haven't heard of anyone successfully abusing this information.
6.13.2008 4:17pm
Danon:
Truth> You're aware that most places keep payroll information in a database, right? It's not feasible to maintain such information in a paper file cabinet. What the newspapers publish are most likely exports of this data.
6.13.2008 9:16pm
whit:
karl, we had a similar case here in WA state where a guy who REALLY hates cops made a website where he posted a whole bunch of cops information - addresses, name, etc. i don't think he mentioned salary, but i could be wrong.

anyway, this caused quite a stink in law enforcement, but he did exactly what you mentioned, he accessed PUBLIC information. he then compiled it and cross-referenced it.

for example, if you know an officer's name, especially if that name is unusual, it's relatively easy to find out where he lives. just search the (online) assessor database. boom . there you go. smart officers will put their house under a fake name - the counties allow you to do that, actually. but it's an affirmative step you gotta do.

last i recall, the cops were fighting for the guy to be restrained from posting this stuff (not me, personally. but ...). anyway, iirc the judge told him he had to remove the SS#'s, but other than that, could continue.
which i agree.

if information is public, then connecting it should not be a crime. people leave all sorts of lipstick traces in the internet and elsewhere.

but it CAN be abused. we had one VERY VERY computer savvy criminal here in WA who was good at this stuff. he got very pissed off at a defense attorney who he believed failed to represent him well. using various databases, he managed to stalk her quite effectively, and even blew up her car. while in jail/prison, he made rather effective use of computer resources to research backgrounds on his jail guards, etc. information is powerful.

but i still stand by the concept that if the information is public, then compiling it, publishing it, etc. is ok.

jack mccoy disagrees of course.

:)
6.14.2008 5:23am