Four years after the California Supreme Court ruled that the pay of government employees is public record, some cities, school boards and special districts still make it difficult to obtain and display data showing how much taxpayer money they spend on workers.
Bay Area News Group this year expanded its request for government pay data to include benefits, pension, deferred compensation and insurance costs. Scores of governments readily provided the data. Others have not.
Prominent among those that have not yet made data public include the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, where Superintendent Steven Lawrence has not responded to a request for data sent to him in January.
In Alameda County, the Berkeley
In Marin County, the Kentfield and San Rafael school districts and cities of Sausalito, Fairfax and Corte Madera did not respond.
Other government entities have released only partial data, including Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Fairfield and Palo Alto.
"It's insane, absolutely asinine" that some governments continue to balk at making compensation data readily public, said Tom Newton, executive director of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Bay Area News Group made 510 public record requests to government entities in the greater Bay Area. The requests were issued from January through March. Data from 255 of those entities can be viewed at ContraCostaTimes.com/salaries and InsideBayArea.com/salaries. The websites will be updated with information from more agencies as it is released.
The public can track outstanding requests in a companion database. That site includes the name and contact information for relevant officials in the agencies that have either not provided the data or that provided only a portion of what was requested. Readers can submit comments about the database to email@example.com.
Some entities want money for data because they want to be reimbursed for the cost of producing it. The Alameda Health Care District demanded $5,000 to detail the medical insurance costs of its employees. Eleven school districts in San Joaquin County demanded $366 each to provide data. The city of Santa Rosa asked for $965; Half Moon Bay wanted $503 and Benicia sought $5,000 for the information.
Many other agencies agreed to provide the data without asking for fees or -- like San Mateo County -- eventually agreed to waive requested payments. Bay Area News Group did not pay for any of the information.
Other entities insisted that complete compensation data would not be provided.
A lawyer for the Washington Township Health Care District in Fremont said it was too complicated to provide pension data for its employees and that it considered the amount of money spent on individual employees to be private.
Officials in Walnut Creek, Fairfield, Milpitas and Palo Alto were among those who made similar assertions about the amount of tax dollars spent on health insurance for individual employees.
Although the request for data asked only for an aggregate amount of taxpayer money spent on the medical, dental and vision insurance per employee, Palo Alto City Attorney Donald Larkin called the information "detailed medical information for individual employees" and refused to provide it.
Newton, formally the newspaper association's general counsel, said he disagreed with such assessments.
"It's nothing more than an aggregate of expenses that don't reveal anything about a person's medical history," he said.
Karl Olson, the lawyer who argued the 2007 Supreme Court case, agreed with Newton.
"There's no reason that any government should be making a big deal about this by now," he said.