Jul 7, 2007

Salaries of House Legislative staff members will soon be published in the LSJ

The salaries of legislative staff members in the Michigan House of Representatives will soon be added to the searchable list of public employee salaries maintained by the Lansing State Journal.

A memo from the House Business Office informing the member offices, as well as partisan central staff, went to the member offices Friday informing them that it had received a Freedom of Information Request from the LSJ requesting the public record information. The Secretary of the Senate maintains the salary of those staffers in the Senate, but I do not have a source there. However, I am assuming the same thing happened there.

The 110 Members in the House are allowed two full-time employees, and their salaries are paid out of their annul office allotment, which is set by the Speaker of the House. The Business Office sets the salaries at a minimum of $20,000 annually and a maximum of $60,000.

Last month the LSJ posted the public information on 53,000 non-exempt public employees that includes name, title, department, county of the workplace and salary.

There was an immediate backlash, and according to the Lansing City Pulse there is a misguided boycott afoot against the LSJ.

The Coalition of State Employee Unions told state employees the unions were coordinating efforts to address the problem, pledging to pursue legal action and urging members to reconsider their Journal subscriptions.

This is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The newspaper is fulfilling one of its most important and cherished public functions: serving as a public watchdog. I have nothing but respect for public employees, and I was once one and plan to be one again. However, when your salary is paid by pubic taxpayer dollars you give up a bit of privacy.

I really don’t know a whole lot of people who enter public service with the top goal of making a lot of money. Certainly, decent pay is one important consideration, but all most people really want is a decent, living wage. Public employees are not overpaid, and they are hard-working, dedicate professionals.

I, and many other people, question the timing of this, and my only question is why it took so long to do it. In a story in the LSJ talking about the anger of public employees, Executive Editor Mickey Hirten said, “he acknowledged that this is upsetting to workers, especially since this sort of public service journalism hasn't been done in mid-Michigan.” He then went on to cite examples of other newspapers that publish public salaries like The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey and The Boston Herald. The former statement is simply not true.

For the past 20 years the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus in Howell in mid-Michigan has annually published a special section called the “Public Payroll” listing the name, title and salary of every person in the county, that they are aware of, that receives compensation from tax dollars: from U.S. Rep Mike Rogers to the constable in little Conway Township.

The P& A is owned by the same company as the LSJ, Gannett, so it seems a little odd that Hirten would overlook that example. The section is popular, at least with readers. That example kind of blunts some of the outrage and anger over the LSJ publication.

“Roberto Mosqueda, president of the Michigan State Employees Association, said the newspaper went too far when it published the county in which the state employee worked. None of the other eight newspapers publish this information and only Iowa includes it on its official salary database. That basic form of identification could put a conservation officer or any other regulatory agent in jeopardy of retaliatory attack from an angered member of the public, he argued. Corrections officers, for example, could be harassed.”

Obviously, in the example of the P & A the county where they are employed is identified, and no one has ever suffered an attack from an angry citizen or a has a public employee in hiding has ever been tracked down by an angry spouse. There have been, however, some angry citizens upset over the amount of money some public school administrators are making, and that’s the entire point of this.

I want to see the information for all people paid with tax dollars, and there should be no exception to FOIA.

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