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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2 Recent PAC Opinions Deal with Employee Salaries

The Public Access Counselor (PAC) was a little busy in December cranking out the last of the binding opinions for 2016. This post summarizes 2 of these opinions, both of which deal with public employee salary information:

In PAC Op. 16-012, the PAC found a City Housing Authority in violation of FOIA for improperly denying a FOIA request for the names and titles of staff members receiving raises and bonuses. The Authority denied the request, claiming the information was protected as private information, would constitute an invasion of privacy if released, and that the Personnel Records Review Act prohibited disclosure of this information. The requester appealed to the PAC, and the Authority further defended its refusal to provide the information by arguing that the requester would use it to harass employees.

Not surprisingly, the PAC found the Authority in violation of FOIA. Consistent with past opinions, the PAC noted that records pertaining to a public employee's compensation (i.e., salary and bonuses) is a public record subject to release. The PAC also rejected the Authority's argument that the information could be used to harass public employees, noting that the requester's motives for requesting public records is irrelevant. In short, the Authority was ordered to release the requested information.

In PAC Op. 16-013, a reporter filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that a City Council violated the Open Meetings Act when it went into closed session to discuss pay raises for City employees. The City Council argued that it was authorized to go into closed session under section 2(c)(1) of OMA, which allows a public body to go into closed session to discuss the "compensation" of employees. The PAC rejected the City's argument, however, finding that this particular exemption only applies to discussion of compensation of specific employees, and the City Council discussed an "across the board" pay raise rather than raises for named employees.  The City also argued that the closed session was authorized under section 2(c)(2) of OMA, which allows a public body to discuss "deliberations concerning salary schedules for one or more classes of employees" in closed session. The PAC rejected that argument, however, because the City Council did not cite that exception when it went into closed session. The PAC concluded that the City Council violated OMA.

The reporter had made an argument that even if the City Council had cited 2(c)(2), it would not have applied because the City Council discussed salaries for non-union employees, and the reporter argued this section only applies to employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement. Because the City Council had not cited 2(c)(2) to go into closed session, the PAC did not issue an opinion on whether a discussion of salary schedules in closed session applies only to employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement or to all public employees. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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