Friday, August 15, 2008

Contra Costa employees' salaries online

Contra Costa County has put the total salaries and benefits of more than 8,500 employees on its Web site, angering many workers who say it violates their right to privacy.

Tucked away on the site the county launched last month, is a 198-page document listing employees' job classifications, salaries and 19 other benefits categories, including health, workers' compensation and overtime totals. The board of supervisors approved the action in March and the online disclosure may be the first detailed compensation posted by a government agency in the state. The list does not include employees' names.

"At this point, with no names listed, it's relieved a lot of people's immediate concerns," said Rollie Katz of Local 1, representing more than 2,400 employees.

"People are very upset because they were not given any notice and most people think this is private information. I think that's a perfectly understandable reaction," he said.

The impetus for the total compensation report was to compare Contra Costa employee pay packages with other counties in the region. Many of the county's employee contracts expire in September and the board hopes to use the report in its negotiations with unions.

"The way it's been released satisfies that objective," said Jim Bickert, Deputy Sheriff's Association president. "A name isn't necessary to do that sort of comparison."

Supervisor AdvertisementJohn Gioia, who pushed for the Web posting, wants the county to go further, by releasing employee names and listing the numbers on an easier to use application.

"I do believe it's appropriate to post by name, and actually, I'm pretty surprised that employees think it's a privacy issue," he said.

Union leaders understand legal precedent permits the release of public employees' total compensation packages, however, Bickert said he believed the county should release the information individually on request, not for all the public to see.

"We support the total compensation study for the purpose of comparing jurisdictions. We prefer if people want more specific information as it relates to specific individuals that they have to go through the Public Records Act request process to get that information so the county knows who asks for it," Bickert said.

Each individual request would include the person's contact information, providing some sort of safety insurance, Bickert said.

Gioia said the information should be posted on the Internet to reduce staff time dealing with public information requests and to remove obstacles for the public.

"The idea to make it harder for the public to get what public information they want runs counter to allowing transparency in government," Gioia said.

Both union representatives said the timing is suspicious.

"Some are feeling this was being done to set the stage for negotiations," Katz said.

The Deputy Sheriff's Association received a legal opinion on listing individual benefits, particularly health care, Bickert said. They sent the opinion to county counsel and the county administrator. If that information is not removed from the site, the union may take legal action, he said.

Almost a year ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that salaries of government employees, including police officers, are a public record and must be available upon request to "ensure transparency." The ruling ended a Contra Costa Times lawsuit filed in 2004 against the city of Oakland after the city refused to release the names and salaries of its employees. The Oakland Police Officer's Association and other employee unions fought to keep the information private.

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