Editorial: Keeping names under wraps a slippery slope to secrecy

Don’t make names confidential in government remuneration reports

No one likes to talk about their pay. We get that. 

But it seems extreme to stop publishing names of city and school district workers making more than $75,000 a year in the annual statement of financial information (SOFI), as has been recommended by some Lower Mainland municipal councillors.

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It’s true when SOFI was introduced to provide the public with more transparency on government spending, $75,000 was considered an executive wage.

Now, it’s a comfortable salary, but not exorbitantly so. It could be argued the threshold for publishing names be raised to $100,000, given that average annual salary for Canadian employees is about $51,000.

But eliminating names altogether would remove an important indicator of decision-making at the highest echelons of civic office.

Each year, media outlets publish the names and salaries of the top earners in city halls and school board offices, providing taxpayers with a glimpse of compensation and whether citizens are getting good value.

For example, we learned last year that School District 43’s highest wage wage earner was a former secretary treasurer who hadn’t been at the board office in two years. If his name hadn’t been posted along with the information, it would have been missed and the public wouldn’t have known the cost of his severance, although the details of Mark Ferrari’s departure are still unknown for privacy reasons.

This kind of information would not be available if New Westminster council is successful in getting support from B.C. councillors for a resolution asking the provincial government to replace names with positions on the SOFI document. They argue that the information puts people at risk for public ridicule and that it’s not fair or conducive to a safe workplace. 

We argue the names as well as the positions should be cited in the document for openness and transparency. It’s more important than ever for taxpayers to see what they’re shelling out for, and for whom, as executive salaries grow — and politicians' pay along with them.

At a time when false claims can spread like weeds on social media and the practice of journalism is in jeopardy, it’s important to recognize that information needs to be transparent and open disclosure of publicly-funded salaries, with names, is fair and reasonable.

Too often, important information is under wraps, requiring costly Freedom of Information requests, and other efforts to glean details that shed light on important issues. The SOFI report is one of the last open documents that provide journalists and taxpayers with important information about their local government.

It includes statements about severance agreements, council remuneration and expenses, suppliers of goods and services of over $25,000, and audited financial statements, all important details.

It’s true you could leave names off and you could still see what salaries are paid but titles change and are virtually meaningless on their own. Such details provide a way of gauging the work and compensation for top officials.

Removing the names would just be one more step on the slippery slope towards secrecy.

 

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