The value of government transparency and the need for more of it have been brought to the fore since the Mackinac Center and two other watch groups released the Michigan government’s salary database in late March.
The new database – which is easily searchable and made available as a public service by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, and the Michigan Press Association – contains salary information for nearly 300,000 public employees.
âAs part of our government transparency project, the Mackinac Center often obtains compensation data for Michigan government employees,â said Michael Reitz, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center, as quoted by My Bay City. âWe use these public records to verify the facts about salaries, verify data from other open case requests, and hold governments accountable for their spending. We and our partners now offer this database as a service to taxpayers and other watchdogs. “
While not the first online salary database for public employees in Michigan, the new database is the most comprehensive and gives people easy access to public records.
âThis database can provide information on the existence of disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Said Jane Briggs-Bunting, founding chair of the Coalition for Open Government, quoted in the Lansing State Journal.
Lansing State Journal columnist Judy Putnam said publishing public employee salaries – something the LSJ once did – may upset some people, but transparency is warranted.
âThe bottom line is that public salaries must be available in a transparent manner. Why? Because the employer of public workers is us, the citizens, âPutnam wrote.
She listed some of the common arguments against a database and explained why, despite them, salaries should remain public.
- It just gives curious parkers some fodder. Certainly, but public information does not require a noble motivation to access it.
- It’s already public. Yes, you can use the Freedom of Information Act to get the information if you know how. It is not a transparent way to run the government.
- Making the names of employees available puts them at risk. The database does not offer any personal information beyond salary and position. It is an argument to throw everything to the wall.
- A range of salaries is available. True again. The Michigan Civil Service Commission publishes them. That’s a fair point, but is it enough?
The Leelanau company interviewed a county administrator who said he was not concerned about efforts to publish such information.
The new database is not viewed as a threat by County Administrator Chet Janik, who previously held teaching positions that allegedly put him on the roster.
âI don’t have a problem,â Janik said. âWhen I worked at NMC (Northwestern Michigan College), Buckley and Charlevoix schools, my salary was public. âThe positions are supported by taxpayers’ money. So I have no problem with the access, âhe said.
âI like to get it from a source like the Mackinac Center which has a reputation for credibility, rather than from another organization without credibility. It’s more reliable, âlocal government watchdog Steve Mikowski told The Leelanau Enterprise.
Through the database, citizen watchdogs identified errors in the posted wages of some employees of the Department of Corrections. In some cases, employees have been listed as receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they actually do. The mistake was made by the state’s Office of Retirement Services, which is responsible for managing Michigan public employee pensions.
“The question now is whether this FOIA response is the only thing the ORS is doing in error,” Reitz said. “Did the bureau base the pension calculations on these flawed and inflated salaries?” How long has ORS had incorrect salary data for? Why did no one in the office ask why an employee of the Department of Corrections was supposed to be paid $ 400,000? Lawmakers should conduct a thorough review of this office and its record-keeping procedures and demand responses. “
Investigative reporter David Bailey, of WZZM 13 in Grand Rapids, asked the state if the inflated numbers were being used to calculate pensions. The RHA said no, adding: âExtensive record-keeping reviews are already part of the ongoing audit process that is taking place, both through internal and external audits.
Bailey took note of a new report from the Michigan Office of the Auditor General which found that the RHA underestimated pension liabilities by $ 143 million in 2014-2015 because it did not have a process control to ensure data accuracy.
The state provided the Mackinac Center with new salary figures for the 4,500 employees in question, but this new data set was also flawed. A third apparently correct set of wages was entered in the database.
As the Center obtains additional records through the Freedom of Information Act process, more government employees will be added to the database.
“Our database made it more easily accessible, while revealing potentially serious administrative problems in a major government office,” said Mackinac Center president Joseph Lehman. âOne of the Mackinac Center’s landmark contributions to political discourse over its 30-year history has been to make public data more accessible to everyone, not just politicians and bureaucrats. We will continue to fight for open and transparent government. “
Access the Michigan Government Salary Database
My Bay City: salaries revealed
LSJ: database reveals salaries of state employees
LSJ: The database of public wages is painful but justified
Leelanau Enterprise: website offers salaries for government
Michigan government salary database corrected after state admits fault
WZZM 13: Heads of State Deny Deeper Problem Over State Pay Errors
Why Mackinac published the names and salaries of public servants in a searchable database
WZZM: Michigan State Provides Flawed Wage Data to Thousands of Workers
Capital City Recap’s Michael Cohen interviews Jarrett Skorup on database release
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