The salaries of public employees are a matter of public record — but that doesn’t always mean these records are accessible to the average person. Juneau’s public radio and television station, KTOO, is spearheading an effort to create a searchable database containing the records of a variety of state agencies, including the sprawling University of Alaska system.
For the UA system, though, this isn’t the first time this type of project has been undertaken.
In May 2011, Heather Bryant began as editor-in-chief of UAF’s Sun Star newspaper, and brought with her an ambitious plan to cull together systemwide salary info — making the database available on the newspaper’s website.
Through a series of editorials, Bryant explained the rationale for the project in response to criticism from staff and faculty.
“Personnel accounts for approximately 60 percent of the university’s budget. It’s important to know how that money is spent,” Bryant wrote.
Some were outraged over the project, claiming their privacy had somehow been violated.
“Publicizing my salary information is invasive, and is a cheap way to ‘target’ individuals. Doing so is indicative of a totalitarian democratic ideology. Shame on you!” Jonathan B. Horen commented on the website.
One commenter suggested that it would be more fair if the Sun Star’s database included other state agencies in addition to UA employees — but the UA database would prove to be unwieldy and time-consuming for a student-run newspaper with a high turnaround.
As of January 2014 the database has been temporarily removed from the website, though the Sun Star says they plan to make an updated database available soon.
These days, Bryant works as the digital services editor at KTOO, applying her previous public record-wrangling experience to the job at hand — a database hosted by KTOO including state government, the Department of Public Safety, Department of Motor Vehicles and the Alaska Public Defender Agency.
According to an email from UAA Human Resource Services, the KTOO database will include UA employees’ gross salaries, healthcare and retirement benefit numbers, and employment status (full-time, part-time, permanent/temp or student employee).
For UAA, the comprehensive database could be eye-opening, especially in the wake of the soon-to-be released findings of program prioritization.
Incoming Faculty Senate President Diane Hirshberg, speaking from her own perspective, welcomes the steps toward transparency.
“My hope is that some people take a critical look at how we spend, the amount of resources that are spent on high-level administrators statewide. … We have a top-heavy university, and it’s been told to us by outside experts,” Hirshberg said.
Bryant, speaking from Juneau, still believes the essence of the project has to do with “transparency in government spending and accountability in government spending.”
KTOO hopes to have the public records database up and running sometime this fall.