CSDA has been made aware by a number of member districts that some media outlets are now submitting Public Records Act requests for information regarding base salaries, benefits, board member compensation, loans, “perks” provided and other items. We felt it was important to advise our members so that you can begin preparing the information internally should you receive such requests.
Further, some districts have already taken the extra step in transparency to post information online, such as salary ranges for positions, benefits offered and contracts. These districts are proactively demonstrating their openness to providing information to the public, media and others that may be interested.
Proactive transparency by local governments is an example of good policy that is also smart public relations. The ongoing scandal enveloping the City of Bell has deepened citizens’ cynicism toward government. The best way to show Bell is an anomaly rather than representative is for local governments to serve as their own watchdogs and embrace maximum transparency and interaction with residents.
Media coverage of local government is increasingly characterized by what I call “public records act journalism”: reporters submit wide-ranging PRAs to local agencies, then sift through the document trove in search of stories. Rather than wait their turn on the media chopping block and hope for the best, more local governments should emulate those cities and special districts that are prominently, proactively publishing the salary and compensation information on their websites. After all, it is public information that the public has a right to know, and putting it out voluntarily helps defuse public cynicism and suspicion – and decreases the likelihood of a city or special district becoming a media target.