How Much Are We Worth?

I believe most City employees are aware that I provided a list of all employees and our salaries to the Democrat-Herald in response to a public records request earlier this week.  The newspaper chose not to print the entire list, but it is posted on their website.  Several employees expressed some anger to me about releasing this list to the media and questioned whether we were required to do so by Oregon law.

I believe Oregon’s public records laws are clear and that our salary information is public information.  More importantly, if we had denied the request, we would be telling our employers, the public, that they have no right to know our individual salaries.  I think this is the wrong message to be sending at any time and would be particularly inappropriate now.

The compensation we earn as City employees is not, in my opinion, a shameful or threatening secret.  Most of us have had little influence over our compensation levels, other than our efforts to meet or exceed the qualifications required to obtain and competently do our jobs.  The salary for my position was set before I arrived here and was one of the reasons I applied for and accepted the job.  City compensation is almost always determined by 1) what the city can afford to pay; 2) what it will take to attract qualified applicants to the job; and 3) what others in comparable positions in other places are earning.  Regardless of how objective the standards may be for setting compensation, there will always be people who believe the amount is too high or too low.  Current economic conditions and some notable corruption cases involving public employee salaries seem to have increased concern and dissatisfaction.

I am sure the accessibility of public employee compensation information and the apparently growing disparity between the wealthiest people and those with the least are contributing to the controversy over what we earn.  Many people seem to feel that public employees have escaped the consequences of the most recent recession, despite the fact that state and local government employers have laid off more than 200,000 workers over the past two years.  Jurisdictions have also furloughed employees, frozen salaries, and/or reduced pay and benefits.

My experience with public employees over many years is that most of us work hard, earn our pay, and seldom complain.  I think that’s true for most private sector employees as well.  We have no need to be defensive about what we make; but we also have to realize that if the economic base of our employer declines, there will be less money available to afford the good work we do.  Our greatest strength is our best effort to serve the public with competence, integrity, and transparency.