Part of the Bay Area News Group

Public employee salary requests go out

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 at 3:31 pm in Public employee salaries.

The Bay Area News Group will expand its public employee salary database this year to include more cities, schools and local agencies and it will add the costs of health insurance benefits, pensions and deferred compensation.

One of the chief criticisms of the database has been that it fails to provide apples-to-apples comparisons between jobs and agencies given the disparity of pension and other types of compensation.

That’s a fair observation. But we had to start somewhere. Give us time. We’re working on it. As always, the database is online and searchable.

My colleagues Thomas Peele and Daniel Willis are sending out Public Records Act requests for the 2010 salary and compensation data this month to 1,633 entities in the Bay Area and the state. Click here to monitor the status of the requests.

As you might imagine, some agencies are more responsive than others.

The status web site will include an email address for each agency, so feel free to nudge any entity that fails to, shall we say, cooperate in a timely manner. It’s your money and you have the right to know where it goes.

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  • Wendy Lack

    Hats off to BANG for providing this valuable public service. Keep up the good work!

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    This BANG project, which began in 2008, is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize in journalism this spring.

  • John W

    Ditto to 1 and 2 above. I especially appreciate that BANG will now be able to show all elements of compensation.

    I’m curious about extending this to school districts. I definitely see the value of disclosure when it comes to administrators. However, I’m not sure I feel that way about individual teacher salaries and benefits, which are unlikely to involve the kinds of issues we’ve seen in other public employment categories. The main plus I can see is that you would be able to look at average salary differentials between inner city schools and more affluent districts.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ John W:
    Agree that expanding data base to include schools (certificated as well as classified) would be useful. Taxpayers would benefit from having ready access to this data, as well as online access to labor contracts for all school employees.

    While it is common practice for cities and counties to provide online access to employee labor agreements, this does not appear to be the case for schools. For example, labor agreements for Mt. Diablo Unified are not available online (or, if they are there, I cannot find them). It would be a benefit to parents and taxpayers alike to see precisely what union rules govern the school (and tie the hands of school principals, etc.).

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant, no?

  • John W

    Re: #4 Wendy Lack

    Yes, I agree with the “sunshine” comment. Labor contracts should be available. I’m just not sure posting individual teacher salaries that are paid pursuant to those contracts would generate much sunshine. But I can be convinced otherwise.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ John W #5:

    We’ll never know what the data might show, unless/until it is available, eh? Assumptions can be tricky.

    I think most would agree that, at a minimum, convenient public access to schools’ labor contracts would be a big step forward. If this is the practice of any Contra Costa school district, it would be great to know.

  • Bill C

    I’m a retired City Attorney and totally agree that government should be transparent and accountable. However, please note that the “record” you seek in your PRA request does not usually exist in an easily disclosable manner, often because it includes privileged data such as social security numbers, medical information, etc. If you’re going to make it more complex, you should expect delays, especially in smaller jurisdictions. You also ought to understand that there is a real cost to these requests, and you take people away from doing their real job to accumulate and provide the data.

    Rather than criticize those that are not as speedy as you might wish, how about praising those that have the resources during these dark economic days to provide you the info rapidly, and be patient with respect to the others who are no doubt struggling to keep their nose above water.

    And for the record, my almost 30 years of public service including all the benefits left me hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars behind my contemporary attorneys who left laws school at the same time I did. There is a cost, one that might shock you, with responding to requests of this sort. Rather than make this an annual affair, why not do this every 3 or 4 years and at least spread the cost. Of course, you are free to review the documents in person and avoid the copying and mailing costs, as well as the administrative costs associated with such requests. Just a thought. If you really care about the cost of government, as do I, you should consider the very real impacts in terms of cost of your request. You can easily become part of the problem, not the solution. Thanks.

  • James Johnson

    Any thoughts to going through SEC reports to find out why one hedge fund manager is worth $5 billion a year?