The City Council on Monday unanimously enacted an ordinance which will make the actual gross pay of city employees a matter of public record. The ordinance, sponsored by Council Member Suzi Towsley, received the support of all seven council members after a small amendment intended to shield employees from prying into their “financial status.”
The pay schedules of city employees have long been public and have been printed at the back of the city’s budget book. Those schedules make it relatively easy to determine the allowable range of pay for any given position.
The ordinance enacted Monday removes from the city’s law on records disclosure an exemption that has been cited to deny requests for records showing actual employee compensation.
The city code originally shielded from disclosure, “city personnel records, including employment applications and examination materials, payroll and medical records which reveal the financial or medical status of any specific individual and, in addition, those records the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
The ordinance eliminates the exemption for payroll records but retains all the other language. At the request of Mayor David Squires, the council adopted an amendment that inserts the phrase “financial status” in a bid to protect other kinds of information to which the city might be privy, such as whether someone is paying child support or having their wages garnished.
“What the code change will not do is put all employees’ wages online,” said Council Member Suzi Towsley, the sponsor.
A number of attendees spoke in favor of the ordinance at a public hearing before the council voted on the measure. One city employee, Deputy Harbormaster Matt Chase, spoke against it, saying he did not feel that his pay falls into the category of public information.
“I’m not an elected official – no one needs to know my wages,” Chase said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t know why the public needs to know.”
“I think it’s great,” said Lowell Point resident Lynda Paquette. “And I think the reason it’s different is because its taxpayer money. Everybody in the community is paying into these coffers.”
Seward resident Carol Griswold said she supports the measure as a means to improve transparency.
“It’s public money,” she said. “We should know where it goes.”
Council Member John Osenga voted in favor of the ordinance, but said he understands why employees may not want their wages to be made public.
“I do sympathize with people that would really not want that out there,” he said.
The compensation of public employees is a matter of public record at most levels of government. The state’s Open Records Act does not include an exemption for payroll information.
The State of Alaska itself publishes an annual report that details the compensation and travel expenses of every executive employee, including commissioners, deputy commissioners, and division directors at every state department, state-chartered corporation and at the state university system.
The Anchorage Daily News has reviewed the compensation of executive employees in the Municipality of Anchorage through public records requests.
The Alaska Policy Forum, an Anchorage-based public policy group, has published databases containing payroll and benefit numbers for the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage School District, information that it received through public records requests, said Director of Operations Larry Barsukoff.
The Forum’s publication of personal payroll information has been controversial in the past, but Barsukoff said that the information is a matter of public record.
“Some people feel like their privacy is being violated, the flip side of that coin is that its public information so anybody, so any citizen any resident of Alaska could seek this out,” he said. “We’re making it more accessible to the general public because we think it’s important to let people take a look at it.”