Wisconsin local government salary

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Wisconsin local government salary data is public record.


Sunshine Review filed a public records request seeking information on public employees salaries, focusing on those with an annual income of $150,000 or higher for the years 2008 - 2011. Madison officials responded to Sunshine Review's request with a note that no city employee earned an annual salary of $150,000 or more during those years.[1]

However, according to the Wisconsin State Journal's salary database, several employees earned over $150,000 during those years. Director of Planning Development Mark Olinger earned $169,439.15 in 2010.[2] In 2009, Comptroller Dean Brasser earned $151,551.04[3]

The mayor of Milwaukee earned $147,335.76 in 2011.[4]


As of 2011, the highest salary for key officials in Milwaukee County went to the sheriff, who made $132,290.[5] The Dane County public employee earning the most in 2010 was the Airport Director, who brought in $145,556.[6] The highest salary yet was at the Brown County Health Center, where an employee made $291,364 in 2009 - 2010.[7]

School districts

According to an online database created by the Journal Sentinel, there were 113 employees of the Milwaukee school district making more than $100,000 in 2011.[8] One employee of the Madison Metropolitan School District was paid a salary of $150,000 or more between 2008 and 2011[9].

The Assistant District Administrator for Racine Unified Schools made $112,630.00 in 2010, the highest salary that year.[10]

Law enforcement

Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office salaries for 2010 are provided online by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Nine employees are listed as having earned over $100,000 in total pay.[11] The highest paid position was the Medical Director for Detention Services, who made $192,694.00. In 2009, 15 employees of the Dane County Sheriff's Office made over $100,000.[12]

Fire departments

The Fire Chief for the City of Madison Fire Department earned the highest salary in 2011, making $132,542.45.[13] For Milwaukee, the highest salary went to its Deputy Fire Chief, who earned $150,512 in 2010.[14]

Salary articles

In 2011, Sunshine Review requested salary information from 19 local governments in the state.



School districts

Law enforcement

Fire departments

Salary records project

In 2011, Sunshine Review chose 152 local governments as the focus of research on public employee salaries. The editors of Sunshine Review selected eight states with relevant political contexts (listed alphabetically):

1. California
2. Florida
3. Illinois
4. Michigan
5. New Jersey
6. Pennsylvania
7. Texas
8. Wisconsin

Within these states, the editors of Sunshine Review focused on the most populous cities, counties and school districts, as well as the emergency services entities within these governments. The purpose of this selection method was to develop articles on governments affecting the most citizens.

The salary information garnered from these states were a combination of existing online resources and state Freedom of Information Act requests sent out to the governments.

Importance of public employee pay disclosure

In July 2010, The Los Angeles Times uncovered that officials in Bell, California were making remarkably high salaries.[15] Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo was earning a yearly $787,637. It was later uncovered that Rizzo's total compensation after taking benefits into account topped $1.5 million a year.[16]

For comparison:[15]

  • Manhattan Beach, with about 7,000 fewer people than Bell, paid its most recent city manager $257,484 a year.
  • Long Beach, with a population close to 500,000, paid its city manager $235,000 annually.
  • Los Angeles County paid its chief executive, William T. Fujioka, $338,458.

Corruption solution

After this report was released, governments began to proactively disclose salary information of their employees. Before the end of the summer of 2010, more than a dozen cities in Orange County, for example, posted salary information on the front pages of their websites.[17]

The cost of transparency websites maintaining such information ranges from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. These websites also save money, and this often is not taken into account when measuring costs.

Citizens upset about the breach of trust and armed with information formed a group called the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, which pushed for an independent audit of city salaries and contracts.[18]

Citizens, empowered with information, are key to keeping government free from corruption and efficient. A study published by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia revealed that the city of Philadelphia has a problem with the efficiency and costs of public employee pensions.[19] The amount that Philadelphia pays to pension recipients limits the city’s ability to use its budget effectively.

The report revealed that there were more individuals receiving pension benefits—33,907 claimants in 2006—than workers in the city—28,701.[19] The authors of the study recommend three steps towards addressing the problem of high costs in pensions.[19] First, improve data collection so that decision-making in terms of pension policies is more informed. Second, promote transparency for better accountability to citizens. Third, reduce costs and use the savings for developing Philadelphia.

Resistance to public employee salary data as public records

The idea of making public employee salaries is relatively new. In 2008, several local government employee associations and unions protested the posting of state employee salaries by newspaper The Sacramento Bee.[20][21] At the time, it was seen as a safety risk and invasion of privacy.

Sunshine Review aims in posting salary information

Publicly posted salaries often leave out important information. Salary schedules can be published as ranges, not as specific take-home compensation, and high-level, highly-paid positions are often not disclosed proactively.[17][16] Additionally, salaries leave out compensation received through health and retirement benefits, as well as benefits such as commuter allowances and cell phone reimbursements. This project aimed to close the gap and provide a more accurate picture of public employee salaries for the sake of public education and transparency.

External links

Private vs. public salaries


  1. Sunshine Review, Madison FOIA
  2. Wisconsin State Journal, "2010 Salary Database," May 24, 2011
  3. Wisconsin State Journal, "2009 Salary Database," May 24, 2011
  4. Milwaukee employee salaries
  5. Milwaukee County employee salaries
  6. Dane County employee salaries
  7. Brown County employee salaries
  8. JS Online, "Wisconsin public school employee pay for the 2010-2011 school year," August 2011
  9. Madison Metropolitan School District employee salaries
  10. Racine Unified School District employee salaries
  11. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee County Pay and Overtime for 2010," August 27, 2010
  12. Dane County Salaries Database, 2009
  13. City of Madison Fire Department, Wisconsin
  14. Milwaukee Fire Department, Wisconsin
  15. 15.0 15.1 The Los Angeles Times "Bell city manager might be highest paid in nation: $787,637 a year," July 14, 2010
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Los Angeles Times "Benefits push Bell ex-manager's compensation to more than $1.5 million," August 8, 2010
  17. 17.0 17.1 The Orange County Register "O.C. cities dash to post personnel salaries," August 10, 2010
  18. Bloomberg "California Official's $800,000 Salary in City of 38,000 Triggers Protests," July 20, 2010
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 '’Philadelphia’s Quiet Crisis: The Rising Cost of Employee Benefits, Pew Charitable Trusts and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, January 23, 2008
  20. GovTech "California State Workers Protest Salary Database Publication," March 17, 2008
  21. The Sacramento Bee "State Worker Salary Search"