Civil Beat has been requesting and publishing the names, salaries and positions of public employees as part of an examination of public spending and in an effort to make government more transparent. On Aug. 20, we submitted a request to the city under the state’s open records law for the names, salaries and positions of the city’s approximately 8,000 employees.
We didn’t anticipate any roadblocks since over the past four weeks Civil Beat has published the names and salaries of more than 14,000 state workers, more than 7,500 University of Hawaii employees, and nearly 300 employees of the Hawaii Legislature. We’ll also be publishing salary information for employees of the state Department of Education, Hawaii State Judiciary, Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
But shortly after the city said it was working on our request, it sent us a letter telling us otherwise.
Noel Ono, director of the city’s Department of Human Resources, snail-mailed us a response dated Sept. 9 that said the city would “only grant part of our request.” He said the city was consulting with the Office of Information Practices to see if releasing salary information would “violate an individuals significant privacy interest … or frustrate a legitimate governmental function.” Ono’s letter also said the city would charge Civil Beat for work it said would take about 14 hours.
Around the same time, Civil Beat got hold of an internal e-mail to city employees informing them of Civil Beat’s salary request. The e-mail explained that the city would be releasing city job titles and corresponding salaries, but would not disclose names.
Here’s a photo of the city’s e-mail to its employees:
Takase issued a four-page opinion late Wednesday, and it was a vindication for the principle that the public has the right to know the names of government employees, that they are a public record.
In it, she said the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act “requires the city to disclose the name, title and salaries for all city employees … unless an employee is or was in an undercover law enforcement capacity.”
Regarding the city’s concerns about privacy and frustration, Takase said they “cannot be considered” under the open records law “given the Legislature’s clear intent to require this information to be made available.”
The city also had asked OIP to consider whether it could protect the names of law enforcement employees “who are not currently performing undercover activities but could be involved in undercover activities in the future.” That could arguably include all law enforcement employees. Takase said that request isn’t justified.
Here’s the full opinion by the Office of Information Practices: