2017-03-30 / Front Page

Website offers government salaries; good or bad?

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

A new website that unveils the salaries of government workers is being lauded — and questioned.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Press Association (MPA) and the Michigan Coalition for Open Government last Thursday launched a searchable online database listing the salaries of nearly 300,000 state employees.

“The taxpayers of the state deserve full disclosure,” said Doug Caldwell, MPA president and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review, Charlevoix Courier and the Gaylord Herald Times. ”Today when there’s so much skepticism about what the government is doing and how it is run, this is a way for everyone to search for the information they want to have. And it’s all in one place.”

The Michigan Government Salaries Database is the latest effort to make state government more transparent and accountable. The 296,895 individual employees included in the database constitute nearly every school and community college employee, about half of state government workers, and all state police officers and judges.

The database is not the first to list the compensation information of Michigan’s public employees. But is the most extensive available for public access.

Retired Department of Corrections officer and former county commissioner Mark Walter sup- ports the public’s “right to know” what government employees are paid. However, the salary numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“You could see Officer X made this amount of money last year. But it doesn’t say that he also worked 400 hours of overtime,” Walter said.

Neither does the report provide a job description listing the employees duties and what they do to earn their pay check.

“The only thing worse than asking someone how much they make, is telling them how much you make,” he said.” It’s rude.”

Steve Mikowski of Lake Leelanau, a longtime local government watchdog, hails the new access to information.

“If you’re an employee of the government, it’s very likely everything about you may become public knowledge,” Mikowski said. “I like to get it from a source like The Mackinac Center that has a reputation for credibility, rather than from another organization without credibility. It’s more reliable.”

The compilation is based on three years’ worth of compensation information for 2014-16 obtained with Freedom of Information Act requests to state pension systems.

But the website’s release wasn’t without hiccups.

The Mackinac Center announced the release of the database last Thursday afternoon. But within a couple hours the emails and phone calls started.

“We began to hear from state employees who said their salaries seemed unusually high,” said Jarrett Skorup, policy analyst with the Mackinac Center. “There was a messup with the information sent by the state. So we pulled it.”

The center contacted the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget immediately and updated information was received from the agency at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

The data, which included Michigan Department of Corrections employee salary information, was corrected and re-posted Monday at noon.

“We’re confident the data is accurate now,” Skorup said.

Nationally, there is a heightened awareness about the release of and access to “private” or “personal” information.

However, the new database is not considered a threat by county administrator Chet Janik, who served previously in education positions that would have put him on the list.

“I don’t have an issue,” Janik said. “When I worked at NMC (Northwestern Michigan College), Buckley and Charlevoix Schools, my salary was public.

“The positions are supported by tax dollars. So, I have no problem with the access,” he said.

Searches are by name rather than position as users might not know the correct title. A search of educators shows compensation for teaching as well as other extracurricular assignments or administrative duties. However, the website doesn’t include information about benefit packages — also funded with tax dollars.

Interesting findings from the information include:

 The five highest-paid public education employees are all community college presidents and all received more than $250,000.

 The 10 highest paid state employees tend to be wardens at state prisons and each received more than $350,000 a year.

 More than 2,700 government workers earn more than the Governor does ($159,300).

The information is available at www.MichiganGovernmentSalaries.com.

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