Lane County’s $23,487 wall to public records

openthebooksBy Adam Andrzejewski
OpenTheBooks.com

Oregon taxpayers deserve to see every dime spent at every level of government — federal, state and local. So why does Lane County want to charge $23,487 to simply produce a record of its public employee salaries?

Recently, the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization American Transparency filed Freedom of Information Act requests with each of the 1,509 units of government in Oregon asking them to produce their checkbook expenditures, public employee salaries and pension information. Our goal is to capture and display every dime, online and in real time — a complete record of all government spending within Oregon for fiscal year 2015.

We believe transparency is the foundation of smart government. It answers key questions in public policy: How much does government really cost? Are there indications of waste, fraud or duplication? Once citizens can see these details, politicians have a hard time saying, “There’s no place left to cut or consolidate.”

Last month, we added the 34,855 state of Oregon public employee salary records to our database. This type of information can be illuminating: The top 1,626 highly compensated state employees receiving annual salaries of more than $100,000 cost taxpayers $258.3 million in payroll, benefits and pension costs. In 2010, there were only 730 six-figure salaries in state government, which cost taxpayers roughly $117.5 million in total compensation.

Yet Oregon’s state government was unable to produce a basic record containing names, titles, salaries and employment ZIP codes for all state workers. After two months and correspondence with three state agencies, we still can’t establish the location or whereabouts of state personnel.

Collecting the public pension information was a similar story. The state Public Employees Retirement System will not release the last “government employer” of retirees. We’ve already found 1,853 retirees with $100,000-plus pensions conferred by universities, municipalities and other units of Oregon government. But which public bodies conferred the most $100,000-plus retirement pensions, and which coddle double-dipping public servants who game the system for personal gain?

We’d like to hold them accountable, but there’s a lack of basic transparency.

We are deeply committed to opening the books at every level and will not rest until the public can see exactly where government spends our money.

So we are filing a request for review with the Oregon attorney general. Why? Because 39 local units of Oregon government want to charge us more than $40,100 in special fees just to produce simple records of public employee salaries.

If these units succeed in imposing what is essentially a transparency tax, our organization could face future fees up to $4 million across 1,509 units of government to simply compile a complete record of all government expenditures: salaries, pensions and vendor transactions. Levying extreme fees — a tactic used to keep government spending hidden — is a violation of Oregon’s open records law.

What on earth could Lane County, which wants to charge us $23,000 in fees, be hiding?

Recently, while examining the Portland’s public salaries, we found that the embattled environmental services director Marriott Dean took home $355,760 in 2015, not the $199,000 severance package that was widely reported. And Portland’s fire training chief, Mark Kaeil, made $275,891 last year.

In our home state of Illinois, in 2013, we faced comparable resistance to transparency from a Republican comptroller. After filing a successful lawsuit, we posted online all line-by-line state spending since 2005: half a million vendors were paid half a trillion dollars on 500 million individual transactions.

When we opened the books in Illinois, we found that the salary of a school district treasurer jumped from $164,000 to $296,000 in one year. After his indictment for stealing more than $1.5 million over 20 years, the treasurer is serving a nine-year prison term.

At my local junior college, the College of DuPage, the president, treasurer and comptroller were fired after our exposure showed that administrators opened “house accounts” at the upscale on-campus French restaurant and billed hundreds of thousands of dollars against students, taxpayers and the scholarship fund.

In our quest to post every dime taxed and spent at every level of Oregon government, we applaud the nearly 300 municipal, state, school district and other local units of government — so far — that have produced a full record of their salaries.

So here’s our message to Oregon taxpayers: In God we trust, but our politicians we must audit. After capturing, mapping and displaying online all Oregon government spending, there will be endless opportunities for oversight. Remember, it’s your money. You have a right to know how it’s spent.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • thevillageidiot

    Who needs transparency of government expenditure. We the politicians will increase taxes to cover all spending. what is not covered we will borrow. Trust us. we know what is best for the serfs. Think sales tax measure 97. the politicians need more to spend more; the serfs pay not the businesses.

    • Braindead Libtards Love it

      As the governmentium politicians assay: “Whee swill continue to de-file you” until your aspersions and bank balances be to token into our usury.

  • Jay Bozievich

    Now, the rest of the story…

    Lane County provides most of the information requested for FREE on our web site at https://www.lanecounty.org/Departments/CAO/Operations/Pages/Transparency.aspx

    You can even see every check and credit card transaction in monthly report.

    What the writer did not tell folks is that he requested information that required syntheses by our staff as well as information in formats we don’t store it in. His requests would have required producing our employees W-2’s as it is the only records with the information he requested. We tried to ask him if he could use information in different formats or slightly different information so that it would reduce the costs of his request.

    Lane County is a transparent organization but we cannot do work for any outside organization without protecting our local taxpayers from that cost. We will always try to point folks to the free information that is readily available on our website or try to get them to modify their requests to reduce costs.

    • guess who

      So Jay, your answer is you do not know unless you have a computer spit out copy’s of w2’s which would cost $23500 why not schedule a commissioners meeting via phone conference to prove how open, honest, and transparent lane county is.

      • Jay Bozievich

        Did you go to the website and see how much information is freely available? The request was specifically for W-2 information that contains massive amounts of confidential personal financial information that would have to be redacted and stripped out as well as requesting multiple pieces of data that required being developed from other data points (synthesized). If Adam really wanted to get good information rather than to purposely jack up the estimate he got to make a head line, he would have just requested the base data and not synthesized data. Show me another local government that posts their monthly expenditures and deposits on line for free. We also have every union contract posted on line for free. I also see you are so transparent as to remain anonymous…

    • DavidAppell

      It’s difficult to believe that changing the format of information would cost $23,000.

      What would it take, a programmer working for maybe a week? Maybe.

      • Jay Bozievich

        Not just format but requirement to synthesize data from other data. The need to screen personal info out of data formats requested was also a time consuming cost. Legal and HR review to make sure we are not violating any laws and our employees rights. Again, the majority of the info he requested is available for free in different formats including copies of all of our union contracts and every check and credit card transaction we make. See the link in m first comments.

  • dsyeager

    Don’t county budgets list out employee positions by title and the money budgeted for them? Asking for W-2’s does seem extreme.

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