March 16, 2008

Want to know what state employees make? We did

Well this was too good to pass up. Now we hope this will enlighten the public about where their tax dollars are going. We need databases like this for county and city employees as well as well as a database to tell us how much they will cost us when they retire at 50 with full health care at 90% of their pay. Here is the link to the database. Thank you Sacramento Bee! We need more papers like you.

Public Editor: Public is public and there is just no hiding that
By Armando Acuña -
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, March 16, 2008

The fallout from The Bee's decision to post a searchable-by-name database of state worker salaries at continued last week, dominating reader feedback for a second time.

There were, however, a few new twists that weren't apparent in the initial days after the database and the accompanying story about state salaries were published March 4.

While the overall tenor of response from state workers remains critical – though the number of complaints has significantly declined – an increasing number of state employees and just plain citizens say they support the paper's decision to create the database.

And it's more clear than ever that, overwhelmingly, almost every negative response has come from state workers, their spouses or relatives.

The number of complaints from regular folks to my office literally can be counted on one hand.

Meanwhile, the total page views at have reached about 4 million.

There was also some news as the paper's editors responded to reader requests for database changes.

Added were categories for searches by pay range, job title and agency.

As explained in an editor's note published last Tuesday, you can now "see who makes the most in a department, the pay for everyone in that department with a certain job title, and the number of workers there who make over $100,000 – or under $30,000."

This is an important addition, in my opinion, as it helps satisfy a legitimate complaint that it was difficult to compare and analyze inequities in state salaries on a large scale using the original database.

In addition, new links were added to state worker salary databases in other states, to a searchable database for federal employees and to national data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics comparing public- and private-sector salaries.

These were all things readers asked for, yet many missed the editor's note about the changes, judging from some of my e-mail.

The paper also has added legislative employee salaries to the database.

In case you were unaware, there was also a protest by about 100 state workers, who picketed in front of The Bee on Wednesday. The protest was organized by one of the public employee unions.

And speaking of the unions, one reader sent a copy of an online newsletter from a unit of the California State University Employees Union. The newsletter tells employees concerned about the database who to complain to at The Bee, including my office.

The newsletter concludes, however, with this: "On the positive side, this should help with researching those equity issues."

It then provides links to The Bee's database and state salary story.

I agree with them. It is one of the positive parts of having the searchable database.

A relatively small but growing number of readers – a few dozen as opposed to hundreds of critical state workers – have sent e-mails or left phone messages supporting the paper's efforts.

Several have been highly critical of the complaining state employees, saying The Bee should also include all benefits – such as retirement contributions, health care, vacations, etc. – to more accurately show total compensation and better compare public- vs. private-sector pay and benefits.

Some want to know whether the paper will expand its database to include the salaries of county, city and public school employees. The answer is yes, though full implementation may take awhile.

A number of responses have come from former and current state workers.

"All of the dust-up over printing state worker names and salaries is a tempest in a tea cup as far as I'm concerned," wrote a reader from Elk Grove. "From 1984 to December 2004, I worked as a staff employee for the Assembly and then for the Senate. About two times a year, a local weekly paper (Capitol Weekly) ran the names, positions and salaries of all California legislative employees. No problem.

"We were – and are – being paid with tax money and our names, positions and salaries were and are public data. We found these printings to be of great interest to see who was being paid what. A real education!"

Wrote a woman who works for CalEPA:

"Please don't paint all state workers with the same brush. I have worked for the state for years and did not complain or comment on the salary database because I think my employers should know how much they pay me," she said in her e-mail. "I work for the taxpayers of California and they are all free to know anything about the work they pay me to do."

A woman from Elverta, who said she's read the paper for 45 years, e-mailed to say, "I feel The Bee's intention in making the information more readily accessible to the public is in the community's best interests."

I've excluded the names of these readers to shield them from some of the vitriol and name-calling directed at me by some of those vehemently opposed to the database that might come their way if they were identified.

It comes with my territory, not theirs.

As this situation continues to play itself out, it's apparent some state employees don't understand, as I tried to explain last week, that an important role of the newspaper is to gather and disseminate public information. That includes making it easier for people to find and use public information.

Last Wednesday, a woman said in her e-mail that she and her husband are state workers. She said they were angry at the paper for, among other things, making public information public.

"The Bee states this (salary database) is public information, then erroneously concludes that since it is public, the public should know."

I will let that speak for itself.

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | | Lakewood, CA
A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™

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