Why we published public employees’ salaries
No sooner had the ink dried on our newspaper and the ques-tion came firing at us: Why did you publish public salaries?
A few weeks ago we pub-lished a rundown of the highest salaries of public officials in Dodge County. In addition,
we printed a complete list of all employees showing their monthly salaries for those working for county govern-ment.
The natural question direct-ed at us was, Why did we do this?
Taxpayers are curious, for a variety of reasons, as to what public servants take home. In fact, our inquiry began because of a reader who contacted us and planted the idea to publish the salary information.
But perhaps more impor-tantly, it is public information. Government pay is public record because taxpayers pay the salaries.
We printed a similar employ-ee salary list in neighboring Steele County for our sister publication last month. After it came out, several county em-ployees seemed a little miffed that we did so.
We also had a similar re-sponse in Dodge County, with the spouse of a county employ-ee who was irate that his wife’s information was printed.
However, the response wasn’t all negative. In an interesting twist, we had a Dodge Coun-ty official, whose salary was disclosed, compliment us about the coverage, saying, “As a fellow citizen and tax payer, I, too appreciate articles like that which you recently published. An open and transparent gov-ernment is an honest govern-ment.”
Employee salaries often make up the single largest item in governments’ budgets, just as they often are the largest expense for a private company.
Examining the information can provide insights on how fairly governments compensate public employees, how pay for public positions compares with pay in the private sector, how pay varies by position, and more.
In addition, knowing how much money other people make benefits workers and makes the labor market more efficient. The theory is, if people have more information, they can make better decisions. And that makes for a health-ier, more efficient economy and better-run government agencies.
For years, pay has been something whispered from employer to employee. But keeping it secret might do a dis-service to workers, managers and broader economy.
Government transparency is important. And putting out the salaries of employees helps build trust and transparency across the board.
Our effort, however, didn’t come without an oversight on our part. It was brought to our attention that the Olmsted County Highway Engineer is paid $131,544 per year, making the position next to some other Olmsted County and Rochester officials one of the highest in southeastern Minnesota.
In our original story summarizing the top salaries in the area, we failed to report on Olmsted’s engineer.
In some states, all employee salaries are available online. In states like Minnesota where they’re not available, news-papers have begun compiling public employee pay lists and publishing them either in the newspaper or online.
As you can imagine, making the list available was popular with most of our readers. But some public employees weren’t so keen about the idea. We went ahead with the list knowing that doing so would not com-promise anyone’s safety.
We included names, job titles and salaries, but nothing more. No one is at a greater risk of identity theft.
Some will make the argu-ment that salaries of people working in non-government entities should also be pub-lished. The key difference is, those people are employed by a private company, and salaries are not paid by taxpayers.
I feel it’s important for people to read our coverage of the employee salaries. After all, it’s your money and you deserve to see where it’s going.
Holding government trans-parent and chasing down pub-lic information are key reasons why readers go in hot pursuit of enjoying our newspaper every week.