By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Drawing the line on Herald comments

If you have some thoughtful — even caustic — criticism you’d like to offer about the Herald’s State Employee Payroll database, have at it. But if you’ve come here to bash Herald employees and to publicize their private information, you’ve come to the wrong place. You know who you are.

The salaries paid to public employees is public information. You might like it. You might not. But making public information public is not illegal, immoral nor, as best as I can tell, fattening.

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  1. Rick in Duxbury

    Dan,It sounds like some folks think they can pick and choose from the elements of the package deal that is public employment. Herald is a private enterprise with a LOT less security for those jobs.To the extent that government becomes more transparent, I can’t think of a reason NOT to publish those salaries, given the proclivity for mischief among those affected. As government gets bigger,the importance of this info (and journos to “connect the dots”) increases exponentially. Someone, (Sonny McDonough?) once said that “everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die”.

  2. Steve

    “But making public information public is not illegal, immoral nor, as best as I can tell, fattening.”Au contraire, mon frere! Howie Carr’s been getting fat off it for 20 years now, n’est-ce pas?

  3. mike_b1

    I seem to recall, amid all the hubbub over Bill Clinton and blow jobs, a little nugget that Monica Lewinsky’s own Judas, Linda Tripp, was making $88,000 as a secretary at the Pentagon. And she wasn’t even a good one, given that from the record she spent her time not working.When I see things like that, I say, “Shed the light!”

  4. Peter Porcupine

    This amazement reminds me of the Know Thy Neighbor web site. It was a big surprise to people that signature petitions are public documents. For balance, consider that that the over 200 towns in Mass. with open town meeting publish the local salaries of municipal officials in town meeting warrants because they have to be voted on. One year, when a person was cut from the Health Dept., I made a motion that the Town Administrator’s department allocation be cut by a commensurate amount, as anybody at town hall can answer the phone and file, while this person was the only town employee who could test water for potability. And it passed.Imagine if we could do THAT with state government!

  5. Paul Levy

    It is public, and the Herald has every right to put it out in a form that might be useful to folks.For some reason, though, I was especially discomfitted by the presentation of salaries for lower level folks with their names listed. Is there really a public interest in knowing what a clerk or secretary in my neighborhood is getting paid? But that is a question of state law, not journalism.

  6. Rick in Duxbury

    Paul,It’s about inescapable choices. The public interest is in knowing that a Human Services Aide for the mentally disabled makes less than some no-show bozo who does his real work holding a sign on election day. People need to realize that Bulgeresque pensions and private-sector compensation for public employees are,(sorry for the cliche), paid for by the most vulnerable. The importance of “afflicting the comfortable” is even greater in a one-party state, whatever that party may be.

  7. mike_b1

    paul, see my comment above. Clearly, no matter the job title, there’s all sorts of shenanigans that go on and at all levels.You want the cushy government job, the pensions, benies and all that stuff that our taxes are paying for? That your neighbors (read: taxpayers) know what you earn seems a small price to pay.

  8. Anonymous

    I agree with the above comment – no point in naming lower-level individuals. It smacks of “we can so we will” and nothing more. I could see listing the position and salary, but not names, of everybody who makes, say, less than the state median or something like that.

  9. MeTheSheeple

    I can easily think of reasons why lower-paid workers should have their pay listed publicly, all for their benefit:* Public information can influence public policy. Someone notices, say, what a Department of Youth Services caseworker makes, gets appalled, calls the Herald, gets a story, influences a legislator, improves the salary, reduces the turnover rate, improves the service and professionalism toward troubled youths and improves the career path for caseworkers.* Someone finds out a less-experienced coworker with similar skills is making more money, perhaps on the basis of racial or gender discrimination. (See USSC court ruling — six months from the first disparate paycheck to bring a claim?)* People realize that a similar skillset in another department can bring them more money, and transfer.I don’t know that these are particularly common these types of cases would be, but they’re all possible.A quick glance at the Herald’s database seems to suggest that clerks at the Department of Mental Health make about as much, and sometimes more, than the mental health workers themselves. Is that a fair allocation of resources?

  10. Anonymous

    I’m for listing all the Names and salaries. It won’t be long till we see a reporter or others discovering double and triple dippers, As well as no show jobs Rick in Dorchester

  11. Man who wishes he had a cushy gov't job

    I know gobs of people who work in higher ed…some of which at SSC, BHCC and UMass Boston. In those camps at least, the Herald’s move caused some titillation for a few days, but then died down pretty fast. I think there’s a strong sense of resigned inevitability here. Those who are generally considered “hacks” know that it doesn’t matter who knows how much they make…they’ll never get forced out, and they’ll keep riding that gravy train until the day they die.Everyone else knows that they’re getting screwed, but the entire pay system is massively hierarchical and union-controlled so they feel nothing will ever really change, either.

  12. Peter Porcupine

    “For some reason, though, I was especially discomfitted by the presentation of salaries for lower level folks with their names listed.”Define ‘lower level’ – and try to sound less condescending while you do it.Many people CHOOSE to work in public service, despite the pay.A legal record is a legal record. You might find many lower level plebeians would resent your insinuation that their contributions aren’t as valuable as higher paid department members, and they should therefore be ‘spared’ having their salaries listed.

  13. Anonymous

    A public record is not just a public record. Infrastructure information that used to be available on the web (lists of powerplants etc) are no longer posted and people have to go through a process to get them. These records can also be sensitive. Identifying information such as name, workplace and salary can be used to help steal ids, it also can endanger people with protective orders who may have switched jobs. It is one thing when people have to make an effort to get information and another when they can simply click away. But hey government workers aren’t really people so why not.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 7:53: You make a good point, which is why I’m not entirely comfortable with what the Herald is doing. But it’s perfectly legal, and, on balance, I think the good outweighs the bad.

  15. jim

    but could the same good have not been acomplished by leaving names off, or separate, or only use last name. since we’re talking about public record, when will we see lists of names and benefits for transitional assistance recipients? i imagine many of the same arguments on public good could be made.

  16. Ryan in Amherst

    What is interesting about the “low – level” employee data is that it sheds light onto potentially wasted resources and / or previously unknown hackerama . In my research I have come across said employees and listed right underneath their name and information is a “contract” employee with the same last name in the same department. Had the lower level employee’s information not been listed, how would this information seen the light of day? Additionally, there a multitude of instances where one apparent family member makes a decent salary which appears to be legitimate, and again, following that information is a person with the same last name, albeit in a “low-level” position. In so many words, the inclusion of all employees allows the taxpayers to look into the window of the state payroll without having to wait for the Howie Carr “hack de jour” columns which lately seem to few and far between.

  17. Radio Fan

    I am more amazed at some of the LOW salaries that I saw on the site.While a few people make more than we imagined….I found a lot of people I checked out make a mere pittance.While it is fair to show people who make big bucks on the publlic payroll….for people who make ver litte….It’s quite embarassing for them.

  18. Anonymous

    I’m sure Peter Porcupine’s comments are meant to be ironic. After all, she’s a state employee who spends an inordinate amount of time blogging for the Republican party during work hours.

  19. Anonymous

    I have been a state employee since 1985, except for 2 years that I will explain shortly. I have worked for 3 different agencies (I won’t say which ones). I am writing this from home. I don’t mind that the Herald has done this. I don’t know who the heck Peter Porcupine is.Some points:Dan and Anon 7:53, at least home addresses of state employees are no longer available as a public record. Gov. Romney signed that into law. Gov. Weld vetoed a similar bill. I agree that there is some privacy loss here.Me-the, most people in state gov’t already know roughly what others make in their agency at least. And state job openings are usually posted on-line these days, so people are free to apply for another job when they see one that requires the skills they possess. But more information is almost always good.Mike_b1, I agree with your points, but we are paying 8-9% of our salary for pensions, and are not paying into Social Security while we are working for the Commonwealth. (A few older employees are paying 5-6%). As a result, we also will get either low or no Social Security benefits at retirement. This works out great for lifetime employees, but not so great for others, and will be a disaster if something happens to the state pension system. (There’s a long story there that I won’t get into.) And, I was laid off from one agency in 2003 and did not get a full-time job in another agency until 2005. In between I worked some at Filene’s and at a local weekly. Total wages for those 2 places were around $3,000. Yes, I know many others in society are less fortunate. Anon 11:09, I would like to see any corruption that gets uncovered, but reporters have known about salary info at the Comptroller’s Office for years. You really need additional information to see if someone is related or friends with say, Kevin Weeks. Howie knows the families of legislators and Bulger associates who have the same name, but it is much harder to track down cousins and friends.Man who wishes, you have good points also, but it is important to know that the higher education bureaucracy, Massport, the MWRA, and the Turnpike Authority are not under the direct control of the sitting governor. These places will pay higher salaries than the regular state workforce, “in order to pay salaries that are competitive with the private sector.” While some salaries there are huge, and your friends in higher ed may well have legitimate grievances, they don’t reflect the good and bad experiences in the bulk of state government that is under the direct control of the sitting governor. These would include state agencies with a commissioner and various other divisions, boards and offices that may report to a cabinet secretary. The list caused some titillation in our office also, but it died down there as well.Jim, the names of those receiving transitional assistance benefits are confidential under law. The same holds true for foster children, DYS kids and mental health patients, among others. An example of something “private” that is also a public record is records of environmental permits that companies, individuals, non-profits, and government agencies must obtain to operate under state, federal and local law. People have been examining these files for years at DEP. But this access did not prevent the plant in Danvers from blowing up. I strongly favor public record disclosure, but it doesn’t solve everything.I usually don’t go on like this but I thought an insider perspective would be helpful.

  20. Anonymous

    you say addresses are now private, but there are plenty of people search sites out there. all that data comes from public records as well and everyone who has bought property, filled out a change of address form, etc etc is in there.

  21. Anonymous

    Sure, they’re available through the methods you describe but not through a Mass. freedom of information request.

  22. Anonymous

    yes, they are … at least through FOIA. Like I said, registry of deeds, change of address, court records, all come from government sources.

  23. Anonymous

    Anon 11:40 and 5:19 here. I am referring to state gov’t sources, as is the Herald and others here. Change of address forms are handled by USPS, not a state agency. Many state employees do not own property, so they can’t be found at the Registry of Deeds, and you’d have to know which county they lived in. The vast majority of state employees will not have a court record. Prior to the change in the law signed by Romney, EVERY address of every state employee was available through the agency where they worked or the comptroller. Of course you can use the Internet to find people, but it was a lot easier, cheaper and more reliable through FOIA. (I’ve tried to find me through those Internet services and could not).

  24. Anonymous

    Did you know that the Herald website” State Employees Payroll Listing downloads a tracking file to your pc. It’s name is “urchin.js” and tracks your inquiries without your knowledge. Check it out if you don’t believe me.Concerned

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