Friday, December 21, 2012

Government Officials Vote for Less Government Transparency

Want to know how much you're paying government workers? A group of Nevada legislators just made it harder for you to find out.

Since before World War II, Nevada cities and counties have been required by law to publish in newspapers all the bills they have paid (though many, including Clark County and the City of Las Vegas, have skirted the law for many years). Legislation that passed last year made the very sensible change to allow these entities to post that information on their websites instead.

However, the Legislative committee charged with creating the regulations to put the law into force added a provision to exempt salary information from this requirement, even though that was not included in the bill that passed. While the information must still be made available, it will be that much more difficult for citizens and journalists to get it.

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Barry Smith objected.
He said SB65 never made an exception for cities and counties not to include the individual salary information on their websites, but the Legislative Commission put that into the regulation. The commission is made up of 12 legislators.

The regulation will require the cities and counties to publish in newspapers on five consecutive days a summary of their expenditures and link to the websites where they can get more information. But on their websites they can aggregate how much money departments are paying in salaries.

"My point is they have to list the checks they write to everybody else, but they don't have to list the checks they write to themselves," Smith said. "That is a big part of what people want to see."
Employee expenses normally consume the bulk of cities' and counties' budgets. At a time when budgets are tightening and the public is becoming more interested in where and on whom their money is being spent the default should be for making more information more accessible, not less. But governments always try to move in the direction that puts the burden on the citizens and not on themselves.

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