The Mankato Free Press
---- — A recent report on public employee executive salaries by the Associated Press showed a steep growth in those salaries after a restrictive law was revised but it also showed some governments were reluctant to reveal those salaries openly to the public.
The second concern is more serious than the first.
The Associated Press visited websites of 126 entities required to put the salaries of their top three officials online or in a mailing to citizens. A 2005 law required all cities and counties with 15,000 population or more to post the salaries, even though state law has for years required any government entity to provide salary figures for any employee to anyone who asks. The law, designed to track growth in public salaries, requires the information be on a website for 90 days.
The investigation found that many entities removed the data after 90 days and some were “buried deep on a website,” according to the AP. Dozens of governments were apparently not in compliance with the law as the information could not be found on their websites. When the AP called requesting the information, all complied.
This kind of lack of transparency is not surprising to news organizations who make these kinds of requests regularly. The culture of many government institutions still seems more about protecting the bureaucracy and fiefdoms than public accountability or transparency.
There were certainly some exceptions. The city of Prior Lake deserves special recognition for not only prominently displaying its salaries on its website year round, but also including information on longevity pay and car allowances.
Prior Lake City Manager Frank Boyles told the AP: “We don’t have anything to hide.”
Prior Lake also puts the information in a type size people can read. Other entities put the information in small type that almost seemed like some kind of fine-print disclaimer.
We surmise the fear of putting public salaries in full view of the public is that some citizens will figure their local public executives are paid too much. That certainly can and should be an issue for local governments to discuss.
The AP report shows that in some cases salary for the same position rose $40,000 in eight years. The law opened up restrictions on public employees who under previous law could not be paid more than 95 percent of the governor’s salary without a special exemption. The change in the law allowed for pay of 110 percent of the governor’s salary without special state approval.
The AP report shows 145 city and county employees earn more than the governor’s salary of $120,303. Those salaries may not be surprising or even out of line in and of themselves, but the transparency provisions of the law certainly are aimed at starting a discussion about that. Local officials who approved higher salaries for Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges and Blue Earth County Administrator Bob Meyer say the salaries are competitive and commensurate with the job requirements and performance of both executives.
Now, the public has the information to weigh in on those decisions as we go forward.