Transparency requires both telling the truth and serving the public’s best interests. The City Council in Costa Mesa failed on both counts when it released the names of its employees, along with total compensation figures, for the entire workforce.
And the sad fact is that the disturbingly inaccurate and outdated report reveals an even more disturbing truth: That when the City Council sent layoff notices to 213 employees in March – nearly half its workforce – it took direct aim at the lowest paid and most vulnerable employees, choosing instead to protect the pay and perks of the City’s executive ranks.
It’s just another example of a story being played out across America as corporate executives and Wall Street bankers rake in record profits while hard working families lose their jobs, their retirements and the ability to provide safe and secure homes for their families.
Still, the glaring misrepresentations in the City’s report and irresponsible and callous way the data was disseminated can’t be ignored. Here are the primary issues the City’s action raises:
- The numbers the City released are misleading and inaccurate, and there is no footnote, comment, or other explanation for the errors . They reflect compensation for 2010, which does not account for the many concessions employees agreed to make at the end of the year to help the city weather the lingering impacts of the Wall Street crash. Those changes include significant pension reforms and furloughs, which have saved and continue to save the City millions of dollars.
- The release also does not reflect a significantly smaller workforce, which has shrunk in recent months as employees flee the City in response to the City Council majority’s continued pursuit of its politically motivated outsourcing scheme. If the City thinks these errors are irrelevant, then it should ask the employees and families who make these significant sacrifices paycheck after paycheck how relevant the reduced income is to their own lives. Ask the workers who have been required to assume an ever increasing workload and are subjected to repeated attacks from their so-called leaders – all while trying to make do with less pay.
- The public’s right to know about how much employees earn should always be balanced with legitimate concerns for employee safety. Arguably releasing employees’ names along with their salaries only remotely serves any public benefit at all. It’s most obvious effect is to further a political agenda that demonizes the City workforce and once again needlessly undermines the already fragile morale of employees who have now become accustomed to undeserved attacks by City elected officials and executives who should be their advocates.
- The way in which the City released these names also was deeply irresponsible. Typically, responsible cities and counties preparing to release such sensitive information inform employees of that intention. This provides employees an opportunity to request that their names be redacted when there are legitimate safety issues, such as stay away orders, restraining orders or child custody disputes. Unfortunately, the City apparently didn’t think its employees deserved that protection or courtesy. Nobody told them that their personal information would be widely disseminated, and no employee whose safety might be at risk was given the opportunity to inform the City of that fact.
If the City legitimately sought to be transparent, it would have already disclosed the specifics of the more than $450,000 in no-bid contracts the Council majority has awarded since it began its outsourcing scheme. It would have already disclosed the more than $100,000 the City spends each month in contracted out lawyers – in large part to defend illegal outsourcing that one of their own attorneys advised them they couldn’t successfully pursue.
To be clear, releasing employee personal data in the manner the City chose does not constitute transparency. It constitutes bullying and intimidation, plain and simple.