The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 11, 2013

Minn. law gives peek at top local salaries


Associated Press

— ST. PAUL — Curious about which government workers earn the most money in your Minnesota city or county? It should be only a click away.

Since 2005, all cities and counties with 15,000 or more people must supply their residents with information about the base pay of the three highest-paid employees.

To test compliance, The Associated Press visited websites for the 126 cities and counties covered by the law. Notices need to be on a site for 90 days unless the information is mailed instead or included in a regular publication.

Many are removed after three months. Some are buried deep on a website. The AP contacted dozens of governments to obtain data that couldn’t be located on the Internet. All fulfilled the requests.

The law originated with then-state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, who saw it as a way to keep tabs on what he thought were steadily rising salaries. Back then, Seifert was chairman of the House State Government Finance Committee and added the requirement to a spending bill that had to pass.

“It was not seen as a burdensome regulation to have them do this. It takes five minutes to put it on the website,” Seifert, who is now mulling a campaign for governor, said recently. “It was not to micromanage what local government did. But it was so the citizens paying their salaries had a good idea if they were getting good value for the dollars they were putting in. At that time there was a cloak of secrecy.”

The irony is that all public employee salary information is considered available to those who ask.

Prior Lake prominently displays its top three on its website year-round. The posting goes beyond the minimum as well, noting “longevity pay” and a $5,400 car allowance for its city manager despite no legal requirement to include it.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” said Prior Lake City Manager Frank Boyles. “We try to make it in a font size that people can read. Some of them require your cheaters to be able to read.”

Indeed, several city and county notices appear in ultra-small type at the very bottom of a website as if they were fine-print disclaimers.Some local governments put their own twist on the notices.

Willmar distributes three lists. One covers Rice Hospital, which is owned by the city and where the top employee earned just shy of $400,000. A second tracks the Willmar Municipal Utility, which pays its general manager $118,934. The third addresses more standard city roles, such as the city administrator, who makes $118,750.

In St. Cloud, the published notices reflect actual pay for the year before, computing regular wages, overtime and other compensation. So in 2012, the roster contained the city administrator’s $123,737 total compensation package along with two police lieutenants who cracked the top three because of overtime and other pay.

A few counties present multiple lists to distinguish between top pay for elected positions and jobs involving appointments.