City won’t name names on salaries

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

By TOM HASSLINGER
Staff writer

Man fighting to collect first names to match pay information

COEUR d’ALENE — The city of Coeur d’Alene doesn’t read Idaho code the way other public Idaho entities do.

That’s according to Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation director, who is compiling a list of financial expenditures and employee salaries from dozens of state, city and county entities for a Web site he’s creating to monitor and promote transparency in government.

Only Coeur d’Alene isn’t fully complying.

It’s “absurd, shallow and indefensible,” Hoffman said of Coeur d’Alene’s refusal to provide all the information Hoffman had requested. “They’re just looking for ways to keep the public from quickly being able to figure out who makes what.”

Citing Idaho’s Freedom of Information Act, Hoffman requested the names and salaries for all of Coeur d’Alene’s 360-plus positions — as he’d already done with roughly two dozen other public entities across the state.

Coeur d’Alene granted Hoffman’s request with the salaries and the last names of its employees. But it did not, and will not, include first names.

Those, the city maintains, are protected.

Not the names themselves but what they might reveal — the employee’s gender.

“Idaho code indicates very clearly that gender doesn’t have to be disclosed,” said Mike Gridley, city attorney. “We’ve honored that statute.”

According to state statute 9-340C under the Idaho Public Records Law manual, records are reserved for a public servant’s employment history, classification, pay grade, salary and the like. Excluded from the public’s right to know is personnel information relating, but not limited to, info regarding sex, race, marital status, birth date and home address.

But Hoffman, a former communication coordinator for ex-Congressman Bill Sali, said he didn’t request the genders, just the names. And Coeur d’Alene’s interpretation of the law is something he’s never come across in his 10 years as government reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune and the Idaho Statesman, or from the dozen or so entities who have already responded to his request.

His Web site, www.ouridaho.com, is expecting a mid-August launch date. (It’s password access only right now.) Already posted are roughly 30,000 employee positions across the state, including Ada County, the Boise School District and the cities of Nampa and Meridian. It’s 737 pages of names. All include first names. Some even include middle initials.

“It bothers me,” said attorney Allen Derr of Coeur d’Alene’s legal stance. “They’re being unduly creative with the interpretation of the law. First names are a matter of course. Always.”

Derr is a Boise-based lawyer with 50 years of legal experience, which includes cases that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said he’d never heard of Coeur d’Alene’s application of the law before. Using the city’s logic, he said, a case could be made that last names should be protected because they could reveal an employee’s ethnic background. And ambiguous first names — like Pat, Terry or Francis — would have to be released.

“I’ve never heard of it in this context before,” he said. “Perhaps they’re stretching it.”

But the language is printed, and it may be a matter of interpretation.

After its initial refusal, the city did send the first initial of each employee’s first name to Hoffman. Hoffman said that still isn’t good enough, and he could challenge the city’s decision legally.

“Perhaps it’s for a judge to decide,” Gridley said.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Not an IDOG member yet?