Dispatches from government reporter Johnny Edwards

A salary database for the 'burbs

Our online database of Augusta-Richmond County employees’ salaries went live last month and swept through the marble palace like wildfire. We got some complaints about it, one of which I thought was valid: Why are you picking on Augusta city employees?

My answer to that was we weren’t picking on them, just starting with them. Earlier this week, we put up a second salary database for Columbia County employees. It’s at http://chronicle.augusta.com/metro. To go straight to it, click here: http://chronicle.augusta.com/metro/salaries/columbia_county.shtml.

Our goal is to continue expanding on this public service so it grows into a comprehensive tool for tracking tax dollars. It’s a fluid undertaking, too. I didn’t realize until a reader pointed out to me that our first version of the Augusta database didn’t include Planning Commission employees, so we had to go back and incorporate them.

For those of you thinking this just isn’t fair, remember, these salaries are funded by taxes, and taxes are compulsory. If you don't pay them, you could lose your house or go to jail. That’s not to say government doesn’t provide vital services, but I digress.

These people work for you and me. It's our money, and we have a right to see where it's going.

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KingJames
10
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KingJames 04/02/09 - 01:31 pm
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0
The salary database is an

The salary database is an invasion of privacy.  Sure, these salaries are paid by taxes.  However, you haven't taken into consideration that you are dealing with people's personal finances.  Since when is important to know exactly how much every city employee makes?  A salary chart without names would have been much more tolerable. 

As a Navy veteran I can tell you that military pay is a matter of public record.  Anyone that saw me in uniform when I was active duty could have determine my lowest possible income just by knowing what my rank was and finding it on a paychart.  My highest possible income could be calculated assuming I received all possible pay and allowances.  My actual income  could also be calculated, but a person would have to know exactly what pay and allowances I was entitled, and my total years of service.  I wouldn't volunteer that information to anyone because it wasn't anyone else's business.  Military pay and allowances are part of public record, but knowing how much every individual is compensated is not. 

I don't think this database should include names, especially those who are not elected or appointed officials, or senior management of departments and/or divisions.  You remind us that the salaries are paid by taxes.  Government employees aren't exempt from paying taxes, so they actually contribute to their own salaries.  You also say that this is a public service, and a tool for tracking tax dollars.  I disagree.  Your database could have shown salary totals only by department.  Then, you could have shown other expenditures for each department. 

I doubt your database will grow to become a comprehensive tool to enable the tracking of every last dollar spent by local governments, if that is your true goal.  For now, though, the information you are providing is of little to no value other than the embarrassment of city employees who undoubtedly would have, if given the opportunity, opted out of publicizing their incomes.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 04/02/09 - 01:54 pm
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How about expanding your

How about expanding your database coverage to include: (1) the salary schedules of all local public school systems? (2) the professional  fees charged all area governmental entities by attorneys, architects, etc.?

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 04/02/09 - 03:11 pm
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I'm sorry you feel this way

I'm sorry you feel this way about government transparency. I, for one, hope I never have to live in a country or a community where public officials/employees can opt out of telling us where our tax dollars go because it's "an invasion of privacy."

KingJames
10
Points
KingJames 04/02/09 - 05:08 pm
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Government workers pay taxes

Government workers pay taxes as well, and should not have their individual incomes plastered all over the Internet.  They would not opt out of telling the public where tax dollars are being spent, but would opt out of telling you how much each individual by name earns.  By including names of those workers you invade their privacy.  Until your database came out, friends and family of most government employees never knew their salaries.  What you've done is tell everyone exactly how much or how little every local government employee earns.  That's a little bit beyond tracking down expenditures for the common good.  I could almost see your point if government employees were exempt from paying taxes, but they aren't.  Some of the same taxpayers you claim to want to provide this information to are also the ones who are hurt by it. 

Elected and appointed officials, as well as heads of departments and divisions could possibly fall into a category that should allow for your report.  Afterall, they are the managers and are responsible to the people for knowing policies, procedures, and making decisions.  However, telling the world how much a librarian's assistant or a school crossing guard earns, and then naming them is taking it too far.  Again, I don't see any value in or benefit from that information.

You could simply list each occupation, the number of employees in each, and their salaries.  I have a problem with you revealing their names. 

As a journalist, you provide information and should consider yourself just as responsible to the public for every story you write as any public official should be with their fiscal responsibility to the public.  Since you, as a journalist have some responsibility to the public, what is your salary?  You're right.  That's none of my business.  It is a private personnel matter between you and your employer.  The people in your database are being punished because they work for the government.  Their individual salaries should be a private personnel matter between them and their employer.

SargentMidTown
8
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SargentMidTown 04/02/09 - 05:50 pm
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    Our county commission

 

 

Our county commission is impotent. Last year they ignored the majority of the Harrisburg property owners who wanted Mercy Ministries relocated out of our residential neighborhood. Fran Olliver who is the business madam behind Mercy Ministries said that she would relocate the business if she could find a place and the funds to move. Guess what. The funds have arrived.

Last Tuesday there was a public hearing at the Augusta Richmond County Municipal Building.
Applications for a $927,319 grant were distributed to members of Augusta's non profit community who specialize in helping the homeless. Fran Olliver was sitting on the front row. In the past Ollver has boasted that she does not take federal funding.

The entire grant must be spent by 2012. The grant title "Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing ( HPRP) Program" is supposed to be part of Obamas stimulus package. Non profit agencies will be able to pay rent of $646 for a two bedroom house to house mostly drug addicted able bodied men. They will pay rent of $910 for a four bedroom home. They will also pay utility deposits, Utility payments, moving costs, motel vouchers, case management services(it is to the discussion of the non profit provider how many "homeless" are on their case load) mediation services, housing search and placement, outreach (I assume this is recruiting more homeless able bodied drug addicts from other cities via bus) credit repair services and legal services. There are not many four bedroom rental houses in Harrisburg so I suspect that they will be eyeing Summerville housing stock.

The stated purpose of this recovery act is to: Jump start the economy; To preserve & create jobs and promote economic recovery; To assist those most impacted by the recession; To provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency; and To stabilize State and local government budgets, in order to minimize & avoid reduction in essential services. You decide: http://www.hongkongaugustaga.org/id5.html

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 04/02/09 - 09:01 pm
0
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As I always contend.  A

As I always contend.  A homeless day shelter of any type does not need to be in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Hopefully Ms. Oliver will do all of us in Harrisburg a favor, and relocate Mercy Ministries.  The homeless are being run out of downtown Augusta and are coming into Harrisburg in droves.  Let's move them up the hill to Summerville, as they have been forced to our neighborhood. Then we might get some help.  Better yet, Stevens Creek Rd. would be perfect where Ms. Oliver resides.

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 04/02/09 - 09:13 pm
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Johnny I second

Johnny I second that....Support decency support www.hongkongaugustaga.org

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 04/02/09 - 10:31 pm
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Ms. Olliver will have the

Ms. Olliver will have the money to move come Sept.

GEISEN111
6
Points
GEISEN111 04/02/09 - 10:36 pm
0
0
The salaries of public

The salaries of public school employees and state employees have always been available online. I think as tax paying citizens of this state, we have a right to this information. If you want to know the salaries of state employees, go to www.audits.state.ga.us


GEISEN111
6
Points
GEISEN111 04/02/09 - 10:41 pm
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0
The salary database of South

The salary database of South Carolina state employees who earn over $50,000 a year is also available online at www.thestate.com/salaries/. The salaries of state employees who earn less than $50,000 a year can be requested at the South Carolina State Library.

taxpayer1
0
Points
taxpayer1 04/02/09 - 10:43 pm
0
0
Face it, this is not an

Face it, this is not an attempt by the Augusta Chronicle to provide a public service.  Save the moral obligation to someone who is not profiting from this exposure.  This is nothing more than a pathetic maneuver to get people to logon to the Chronicle’s website.   I’m sure the Chronicle is having trouble competing with larger newspapers and online journals, and I’m sure these links are providing you with desirable online traffic.  The fact that you have put the links on your front page proves their popularity and your motivation.  I am disappointed that you’ve resorted to such schemes to lure your customers.  Have you really become bottom feeders?  You’re right in line with Us Weekly and Star Magazine on this one.  Way to go Augusta Chronicle!

taxpayer1
0
Points
taxpayer1 04/02/09 - 10:52 pm
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These are government run

These are government run websites.  If the Chronicle truly wanted to provide a public service, they could have requested that these salaries be posted on Columbia County’s or Richmond County’s websites.   The Chronicle posted the salaries for their own benefit.

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 04/03/09 - 12:48 am
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0
I agree with KingJames on

I agree with KingJames on this one Johnny. Where does it end. Are we going to print the name and amount of every social security recipient? Thats tax dollars too. How about disabled veterans and the compensation or pension benefits they receive. Thats tax dollars too. I'll go one further. Let's print the amount of taxes paid by each taxpayer and then include a list of those that don't pay anything. As a taxpayer this information would be extremely helpful since we may be able to identify quite a few tax cheats among us. Instead of just listing the amount paid, owed or not paid at all, lets publish everyones complete tax return.

The problem with publishing everything about everyone is that privacy and most of all security is diminished. The internet not only becomes a tool to share useful information, but a tool for criminals to terrorize and threaten citizens.

Yes, the information about how our taxes is spent is very important and should never be hidden from view. But there are other ways to look at how money is spent without sacrificing the privacy and security of people.

 

jsherrill
0
Points
jsherrill 04/03/09 - 01:39 am
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0
I am all for transparency in

I am all for transparency in government and if you are an elected official your records of income from any source should be public information.  Also, in light of recent shortcommings of Federal Government officials not paying there just taxes, this should also be public disclosure.

Bulldog
1327
Points
Bulldog 04/03/09 - 08:40 am
0
0
The ability to see how our

The ability to see how our tax dollars are being spent is valuable to every tax payer. We need to be able to see how every dime is disbursed. On the other hand, I'm not sure that attaching a name to every salary is that important. Identification of the position and its remuniration is probably adequate for the purpose. Is the list of state positions available somewhere?

0
Points
04/03/09 - 08:59 am
0
0
Wow.  Did you hit a nerve

Wow.  Did you hit a nerve or what?  But why stop at ticking off the men?  Why not publish the actual ages of all the women?  

voluptuously_auburn1
0
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voluptuously_auburn1 04/03/09 - 09:10 am
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I agree with this poster ...

I agree with this poster ... if you are going to provide financial info on all RC employees then it also stands to reason that any monies paid out for services rendered should be also revealed.  I'm liking knowing where and how much Augusta pays out.

fighterzack
4
Points
fighterzack 04/03/09 - 03:21 pm
0
0
How about this- make all

How about this- make all income public information. Then everyone would see who needs money to support their families, and also who can afford to be generous and help others. Then have gifts be public also. Make all business income public, as well. Wow, what a shock that would be. People could become truly altruistic. Well, a person can dream.

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 04/03/09 - 04:46 pm
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On a local level the amount

On a local level the amount of taxes people pay and those who are delinquent is already public record. Hey, you've given me an idea.

brianw
1
Points
brianw 04/04/09 - 04:01 am
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Johnny, The Chronicle seems

Johnny, The Chronicle seems to have touched a nerve with its readers (Oh yeah, let's not forget, some of the folks you name are potential subscriptions lost - revenue The Chronicle can't afford to lose these days). I agree with you about transparency in government, but I also agree with the poster calling himself KingJames et al. Does The Chronicle REALLY believe it absolutely necessary to assign names to the numbers? I, for one, believe The Augusta Chronicle should reconsider this decision. Would it not be more feasible or practical to name the position and then quantify a salary range (i.e. 30K - 40K)? The Chronicle doing such seems a win-win. It would be much less intrusive on the private lives of all those working to serve our county and would serve the good intentions of The Chronicle.

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 04/04/09 - 11:17 am
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So what you're telling me is

So what you're telling me is that you prefer your information vague and inconclusive, and when I give you information about your government, you want me to pause first and consider whether it will make anyone upset and cost us subscriptions. Sorry, no can do.

As I've said before, these are salaries funded by taxpayer dollars, and we have a right to see them. The state's lawmakers and high-court judges have affirmed this. Some other people on this thread are making some good points about the state government having already chosen to post its workers' salaries on the Internet, including teachers. What we're doing is offering the same thing on a local level.

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 04/04/09 - 11:21 am
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Gee, let me consider this.

Gee, let me consider this. You want reporters working on behalf of the government. And you don't want a private business doing anything for its own benefit. May I suggest the People's Republic of China?

Rozzie2003
5
Points
Rozzie2003 04/04/09 - 12:19 pm
0
0
I want to see Richmond and

I want to see Richmond and Columbia Counties School systems.

Georgialina
7441
Points
Georgialina 04/04/09 - 11:31 pm
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0
As a subscriber of the AC,

As a subscriber of the AC, Johnny, I pay your salary so come on and pony up the info. Why not? Are you too embarrassed to post it? I am sure that is how your "yellow journalism" has made many of our county employees feel. I agree with King James  and others that a salary range for each position would be good enough or just posting the elected officials salaries. Most people really do not care what a court clerk or a bailiff makes. I know that this info is available as public record but most people are less likely to trod down to the marble palace to look it up thus saving some secretary the embarrassment of it being posted in your paper. I understand that your rag is in financial trouble and you are just trying to boost readership anyway you can, but I bet you lost more subscribers on this issue than you gained. I know that when my renewal comes up I will not be sending the AC any more of my money. And you can tell Cowboy Billy that he has you to thank for that. And FYI, I do not and have not ever worked for Richmond County so my comments are strictly aimed at you and your bosses and not from a personal stand point.

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 04/05/09 - 01:00 am
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What do you not understand

What do you not understand about a government employee vs. a private business employee? Newspaper subscriptions are not compulsory. If you stop sending The Chronicle money, it's not going to cause your house to be auctioned off. In my mind, this is a major factor that makes the salaries of government employees a matter of public concern. 

And when you stop being a subscriber, does that mean you'll stop posting blog comments, too?

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