Local government salary
Local governments are inconsistent in providing salary information for government employees. While some governments provide full salary and benefit information for each public employee, many must be prompted to do so by Freedom of Information Requests. In these instances, local government salary data can best be found on third party websites.
Why access to salaries is important
Employee salaries and benefits make up a large portion of local government budgets. Transparency and openness regarding salary information helps keep local government and public sector salaries from growing disproportionately larger than their private sector counterparts. For example, without transparency, it might never have been discovered that 13 lifeguards employed by Newport Beach, California were receiving annual salaries in excess of $100,000. Full transparency, when it includes a means of identifying local employees along with their salary information, can help monitor for corruption in the form of kickbacks and favors that might be doled out courtesy of the taxpayer.
What should be provided?
The ideal level of transparency includes the maintenance of a searchable database containing employee salaries. Many of the most proactive local governments, such as that of Albuquerque, New Mexico, maintain a database of ideal quality. Here, salary information is searchable by department, job title, earnings, base hourly rate and employee name. Results provide an employee's full name, yearly earnings to date (including overtime and other additional payments) and their base hourly rate.
Problems with finding data
Many local governments fail to live up to the ideal level of transparency. For example, some provide only a very basic outline of employee salaries. Salary schedules are often available that only provide base salaries for various positions within government. In these cases, the burden falls to citizens to seek employee salary information through Freedom of Information Requests. This process often creates issues of its own when local governments either refuse requests or place tremendous monetary costs on FOIA filers. Miami-Dade County, Florida, for example, attempted to charge Sunshine Review $22,000 for information on employee salaries and benefits exceeding $150,000.
- See also: State government salary
Some state governments provide databases of their own detailing local employee salaries. California is one example. In 2010, the State Controller's Office made public 600,000 local government employee salaries from 400 cities and 40 counties. Centralized data can make accessing salary information easier, but should not lift the burden from local governments of providing up-to-date figures of their own.
Many local governments cite privacy concerns as a reason for refraining from providing employee salary information. One large question is whether governments should include employee names along with salaries. While a full name is not imperative, it is important that some sort of individual identifier is provided for each employee so that salary changes may be noted. This can sometimes be accomplished through the use of an employee identification number.
Privacy issues such as identity theft are not a frequent occurrence when employee names are disclosed along with salary data. State and federal laws allow governments to redact information of a "personal nature" from FOIA requests. This includes Social Security numbers and ongoing police investigations.
Local government salaries in the news
Half of the lifeguards employed by Newport Beach, California were revealed to be earning $100,000 in annual salary. All but one of the lifeguards earned more than $100,000 when benefits were included.
The State of California paid an estimated $8.7 million since 2006 to a group of prison doctors and mental health professionals unable to work as a result of malpractice accusations. The nearly 30 employees had been deemed too dangerous to treat inmates by other doctors, and collected 37 years worth of salaries during the appeals process.
Troy Public Schools in Troy, Michigan paid larger salaries to both an elementary and middle school gym teacher than to an AP biology teacher selected as a national teacher of the year by the district. The teacher of the year received a salary of roughly $92,000, while both gym teachers were paid between $100,000 and $97,000.
Utica Community Schools, in Utica, Michigan, employed 31 gym teachers all earning more than the City of Utica's police chief. 36 of the district's 52 gym teachers were earning more than the city's fire chief. In 2010-2011, Utica Community Schools faced a $33 million deficit, and closed four elementary schools.
- Career Guide to Salaries, State and Local Government, Bureau of Labor Statistics (dead link)
- Government Employee and Payroll, U.S. Census Bureau
- California State Controller's Office
- Salary for Local Government, Payscale.com
- "Lifeguarding in the OC is totally lucrative; some make over $200K," The Orange County Register, May 10, 2011
- Albuquerque transparency
- "Miami-Dade County Demands $22K For Access To Public Information," Sunshine Review, August 2, 2011
- "600,000 local government salaries posted online," CaliforniaWatch.org, October 25, 2010
- "Freedom of Information Act, celebrated this week, is used by many and for many reasons," Mlive.com, March 17, 2011
- "California prison doctors, barred from seeing patients, collect full pay," LA Times, November 28, 2011
- "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," Michigan Capitol Confidential, November 2, 2011
- "31 Gym Teachers Earn More than Town Police Chief," Michigan Capitol Confidential, November 18, 2011