NM Watchdog and Rio Grande Foundation Republish Public Employee Salaries Court Has Ordered Governor To Remove From Sunshine Portal [Updated]
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We are republishing the information on state employee salaries a District Court has ordered Governor Susana Martinez to remove from New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal. Not only will New Mexico Watchdog continue to make that information publicly available in the same user-friendly format as the Sunshine Portal, the Rio Grande Foundation will annually publish the names, job titles, and salaries of all New Mexico state employees until the Legislature plugs the loophole exposed by a union seeking to restrict access to public information on how tax dollars are being spent.
We have created a website, nmtransparency.org, where the Sunshine Portal has effectively been replicated with the information Governor Martinez has been ordered to take down. [Update: We have just lost much of the data on this site and are investigating. The state employee wages by the hour are linked below at at separate site].
[Further Update: We think we've identified the problem. Still working on getting the site functioning again. Sorry for the inconvenience to our readers]
[Last update: Wherein We Admit (Partial) Defeat. Please see related blog post]
AFSCME’s Lawsuit to Hinder Public Access to Public Information
The union representing 10,000 New Mexico state, county and municipal employees filed suit to prohibit Governor Susana Martinez from revealing the names of all state employees on the state’s Sunshine Portal. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District 18 filed suit in Albuquerque District Court in mid-June seeking an order requiring Governor Martinez to remove from the Sunshine Portal the names of classified employees. The 26,149 classified employees are the bulk of the state’s workforce. They include all who work under the guidelines of the state’s civil service system. Only 1,005 state employees are considered “exempt” from the civil service system. These include political appointees.
The Sunshine Portal Law, NMSA 10-16-3, explicitly permits publishing “a directory of all exempt employee positions, identified by state agency, position title, salary and the name of the individual that holds the position.” With respect to other employees, the law authorized publishing “a directory of all employee positions, other than exempt employee positions, identified only by state agency, position title and salary.” Governor Martinez signed the act into law on March 30, 2011.
As even the union recognizes, the salary information for all state employees is public information. It may be compiled by requests to inspect public records, though that can be an overwhelming task for the majority of New Mexico citizens.
Governor Martinez on December 14, 2011, announced that she would publish the names of all state employees and their salaries on the Sunshine Portal. “Listing this important information on the Sunshine Portal will give New Mexicans an even greater idea of how their tax dollars are spent in the operation of state government,” said Governor Martinez in her announcement. “New Mexico taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going — whether it pays the salary of a civil servant or an appointee.”
Her administration took the position that since this was public information anyway, available to any citizen who requested it, there was nothing wrong with making it easily accessible on the Sunshine Portal. The union argued that, though all employee salaries are public information, the Sunshine Portal law “protected” disclosure of classified employee salaries.
A bill to explicitly authorize publishing all employee information on the Sunshine Portal, regardless of classification, failed to emerge from the 2012 legislative session.
Judge Valerie Huling of the Second Judicial District has ordered Martinez to remove the classified employee names from the Sunshine Portal. According to Judge Huling’s office, the order has not yet been entered and no written opinion is available at this time.
Gwyneth Doland, Executive Director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, told us she was “disappointed in the ruling. It makes it more difficult for the public to access public information.”
From what we understand of the ruling, it only prohibits the Governor from publishing the names of classified employees along with their salaries and titles on the Sunshine Portal. There is no prohibition against the Governor publishing the same information on her office’s website or another New Mexico government website. (See Rob Nikolewski’s story on Governor Martinez contemplating that very action.) Nor does the ruling apply to other parties–like New Mexico Watchdog and the Rio Grande Foundation. We were not parties to the lawsuit and are not subject to the court’s jurisdiction in the AFSCME lawsuit. There is no law we know of that prohibits us from republishing and preserving public information that has been publicly available. The Public Information Officer for the Sunshine Portal informs us that no copyright interests are violated in republishing any aspect of the Sunshine Portal.
New Mexico Watchdog and the Rio Grande Foundation Step Into the Breach
Shortly after AFSCME filed its lawsuit, New Mexico Watchdog cached and preserved the Sunshine Portal salary information on classified employees. We believe taxpayers should have easy access to the salaries of the people they pay. That is a policy enshrined in the state’s laws on public access to public records.
The salaries of classified state employees are available here at nmtransparency.org. The site operates just like the Sunshine Portal, except for the search function, and contains all the public information on state employee salaries AFSCME wants taken off the Internet. We have added the site to our blog roll for future convenient access.
Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, says that each year the classified data is not published on the Sunshine Portal, the foundation will compile and publish state employee salaries, regardless of whether they are classified or exempt. “The Rio Grande Foundation strongly favors transparency and openness when taxpayer dollars are at stake,” says Gessing.
New Mexico Watchdog contacted Shane Youtz, the attorney for AFSCME District 18, to ask if his client objected to a private party publishing the same data that is currently reported on the Sunshine Portal for all state employees, and what the objection would be. He has not responded to a telephone message and e-mail. A similar inquiry to AFSCME 18 itself has not been answered.
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Tags: AFSCME, AFSCME District 18, Gwyneth Doland, Inspection of Public Records, Judge Valerie Huling, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, New Mexico Watchdog, nmtransparency.org, public employee compensation, public employee salaries, public employee unions, public records, Rio Grande Foundaton, Shane Youtz, Sunshine Portal. Susana Martinez