Monday, November 19, 2007

Data On Demand A Bit Too Demanding

MJSOnline, through it's Data On Demand section, has seen fit to publish the salaries of several thousand public school teachers, as well as city and county of Milwaukee workers' salaries, BY NAME, on their Website. Now before you tell me that this is public record and the people have a right to know, let me say I agree with you. The people have a right to know how their money is being spent. But put yourself in the shoes of someone like my mother, who works for the county in Health and Human Services in a position where she has a lot of contact with those who receive welfare, W-2, foodstamps, etc., whose salary is among those you can find, along with her name, through Data on Demand. Would you want just anyone to know exactly how much money you made last year? Even if you work in the private sector, would you want just anyone to have that knowledge? Does the public really need to know exactly how much someone made last year?

A friend of mine, a former DHHS employee, wrote a letter to the JS that I don't expect will be published anytime soon. As such, I have decided to publish it here, with the author's permission. I am maintaining the author's anonymity, as promised. I've highlighted a few portions I want to emphasize.

This morning, a friend of mine whose mother works for the county forwarded the link to your "data on demand" section where you've chosen to publish the salaries of Milwaukee County and City employees... by name. I thought it incisive and quite liberal that you chose to include their overtime hours and comp pay. Having, at one time, worked for the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, I was absolutely disgusted with exactly which axe it is you have decided to grind this time without providing an ounce of justification, explanation or indemnity.

I have been employed by the government in one way or another for many years now and, therefore, understand that the salaries of government employees are paid by tax payers and are, as such, public domain. Odd though that many executive salaries are conveniently missing or difficult to locate through this function. I could be wrong, but I am quite sure the Executive Director of the Department of Health and Human Services makes quite a bit more than $0 (as his is the only BMW parked in the Marcia Coggs parking lot.)

Imagine, if you will, working in a place where you already receive daily gun threats and bomb threats, the building is in terrible shape, your car has been broken into twice this year already, there's no metal detectors or bullet-proof glass, you are yelled at and berated on a daily basis for many things outside your control, where you are subject to government funding cuts that mean you are constantly having to justify your existence, speak with your ineffectual union and fight for a job where you are, likely, desperately underpaid.

I can assure you, as a voice of experience, if money is being wasted at Milwaukee County DHHS, it is hardly being squandered at the hands of people like my friend's mother and the other tireless welfare caseworkers of Milwaukee County. It is being wasted on things like tasteful office furniture for the executive lounge of the administrative offices (furniture, need I mention, that most visitors to DHHS rarely, if ever, sit on). Or, perhaps, employees who have gotten high-level administrative jobs through one means or another that enable them to sit in their offices and surf the web or play solitaire day in and day out on the public dime; never actually assisting anyone. How about all kinds of services that Milwaukee County "provides" that no one actually ever sees, uses or sees financial records for? Need I go on?

But really, this notwithstanding, I don't think anyone's salary should be that easily accessible... but especially if you work predominately with welfare recipients, homeless people, juvenile delinquents, ex-cons and the public at large. I suppose one could wage the argument that such people are not likely to have web access, but who would they be kidding when job search programs in Milwaukee County are little more than computer and internet access for those forced to the outside of the technical world by their financial circumstances?

Here at the University of Texas at Austin, I continue to be a government employee and my salary is published as public record. Were you to wonder what I make (substantially more than a welfare caseworker in Milwaukee County) you could go to the UT Human Resources webpage, key in my job classification and it would tell you the minimum, maximum and qualifications necessary for my annual salary. From this, it is assumed that you could probably extrapolate where I fall within the salary range... but... if you really wanted to know specifically what *I* make, you could contact the government, complete some paperwork, probably do some standing in line, JUSTIFY THE REASON YOU REQUIRE THIS KNOWLEDGE and the great state of Texas would be happy to tell you.

The University of Texas at Austin
Division of __________________


elliot said...

I don't know. I think this is a tough one. Technically, everyone's income is a public record (thank you, IRS).

And, in the age of the Internet, ALL public records should be easily accessible.

But I've never understood how knowing what someone else makes serves the public.

So this one is a draw for me.

john said...

I'm sure your friends mother is an excellent employee of the people. I'm equally sure that the furniture at the offices she inhabits is quite Spartan. I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that this Saint of a woman works "tirelessly" for those who also recieve public tax monies and services. I have no doubt that those this "tireless, Saint of public servant" serve, abuse her and make her life a living hell. A living hell with bad office furniture in fact. In fact, I'd wager that this wonderful tireless Saint of a public servant works upwards of 30 hours weekly, with barely 5 weeks of vacation, 13 sick days and somewhere between 9 and 13 paid holidays, with health insurance, eye care and dental, and a nice pension. And lastly I'd agree that for the public (me) to be able to access what her pay and benefits are, the public (me) should have a compelling reason.
Such as:
I'm a taxpayer and I want to know.
I'm a taxpayer and I have every right to know what the PUBLIC SECTOR (me and the rest of the taxpaying people who ARE the government) pays OUR EMPLOYEES.

Coop said...

Perhaps you would be interested to know that she gets that kind of vacation and sick time because SHE HAS WORKED FOR THE COUNTY FOR 25 YEARS.

I'm not saying you don't have a right to know what she makes; she is a public employee, and you have a right to know. What I *AM* saying is that this information shouldn't be so readily available. Tell me, would you want just anyone to know *EXACTLY* how much money you brought home last year? As this post tried to point out, there needs to be a line drawn somewhere. At some point, this is an invasion of her privacy.