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Corruption Chronicles

County Says Disclosing Top Salaries Creates Safety Risk

 

In a pathetic effort to conceal their lucrative taxpayer-funded salaries, public employees in the nation’s most populous county claim that revealing their income puts them at a safety risk.

The rather absurd argument was presented this week by Los Angeles County officials who want to keep secret the names and salaries of some highly paid county employees, in violation of a decades-old state public records law. The county simply wants to protect workers who claim that disclosure could put them at risk, according to the local newspaper that requested the information.

The paper asked for the identities and pay of county workers who earn $250,000 or more annually. Of the county’s 100,000 employees only a few hundred are expected to be on the secret list so the information should not be difficult to obtain. However, the county attorney handling the matter asserts that employees “have expressed personal safety and similar concerns about such disclosure.”

Failing to reveal the information not only violates California’s 1968 Public Records Act, but also a 2007 state Supreme Court ruling that says public employees don’t have a reasonable expectation to privacy in their salary or compensation information.

The ruling recognizes that public employees may be uncomfortable with the prospect of others knowing their salary. However, in light of the strong public policy supporting transparency in government, the decision says, an individual’s “expectation of privacy in a salary earned in public employment is significantly less than the privacy expectation regarding income earned in the private sector.”

Regardless, the county is working diligently to withhold the information, justifying the secrecy by claiming that the highly-paid employees’ personal safety concerns are “potentially legitimate.” That’s why the county developed a process by which employees may “request anonymity for personal safety and other legitimate reasons,” say county officials. Perhaps they will at least disclose the specific “safety concerns.”

 


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