MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver has e-mailed and mailed the following letter to the Montana Policy Institute concerning MPI’s new web site that broadcasts state employees’ compensation.
Feaver’s letter has also appeared as a guest editorial in several of Montana’s largest newspapers.
“Public employee salaries are public record. Always have been,” Feaver says. “And right now the state is complying with a court order to provide MPI salary and benefit information, which MPI is loading up for voyeurs’ delight. But when voyeurs go looking for what public employees make, they should find actual salary facts and context. To this point MPI guarantees neither.”
Feaver notes that “MPI is also into ‘right to work,’ public school privatization, and ending public employee retirement pensions. MPI veneers a hard right wing libertarian agenda designed ultimately designed to drown government in a bathtub.”
July 18, 2012
Carl Graham, President
Montana Policy Institute
67 West Kagy Street B
Bozeman, MT 59715
The Montana Policy Institute has been crowing loudly about its new OpenGovMT.org web site that freely and cavalierly broadcasts the compensation of Montana’s state employees.
In a recent newsletter, MPI claimed “we [the people of Montana] can now have an informed debate and make decisions based on facts rather than conjecture or posturing.”
Well, perhaps . . . but there’s a problem with this claim: MPI’s presentation of the “facts” is flawed and distorts the reality of state employee salaries and benefits.
MEA-MFT supports open, accountable government. If folks really want to know what state employees make, so be it, but they ought to know the truth . . . unvarnished by your inaccurate presentation.
Since the MPI OpenGovMT.org website has gone up, we have been able to verify the following data problems or distortions:
• Your MPI site shows percentage increases in employee salaries based on previous year’s compensation levels, regardless of whether or not employees listed worked a full year, changed jobs, or were promoted. For example, an employee who only worked three months in 2009 but 12 months in 2010 shows a 75% increase in salary. Similarly, employees who have been promoted or changed jobs appear to have received compensation increases without explanation.
• Your site does not disaggregate reimbursement for employee expenses or personal miles driven for state business purposes, etc. allowing viewers to erroneously conclude that reimbursement of personal expenses is income.
• Your site does not disaggregate employee benefits from compensation so that compensation and benefits levels can be authentically compared to other employment sectors. Using only wage income from one sector and total compensation and benefits from the public sector can only lead to hugely distorted conclusions about the relative compensation of both.
• Finally your site does not mention or try to give context to compensation levels of employees who have earned severance payments after leaving state government. In at least one case, severance payments for unused leave amounted to well over 60% of the individual’s final salary level. MPI would have us believe that this individual received a 60% increase in salary. This is simply not the case.
Based on actual issues brought forward by state employee members of MEA-MFT, we believe that problems such as we have outlined above exist in hundreds of state employee salary records your MPI site has posted.
If MPI is going to present information about individual state employee compensation and benefits as fact, MPI has a public responsibility to:
1) list accurate information and verify its accuracy prior to publication;
2) publish any limitations or contextual information about the data source to allow readers the ability to draw the fairest conclusions from the information presented;
3) acknowledge that the information currently on its web site is in many cases inaccurate, and in all cases without context; and
4) temporarily suspend the web site until you can assure accuracy and adequate context.
Or, how about instead of MPI collecting information from the state and then presenting as it chooses, why don’t we work together to compel the state to create its own state employee pay site — a neutral site — where the information comes straight from the source and is available to all. Really, now, why should folks who want to know what state employees make go to a private sector source that may or may not have a bias?
Montana state employees protect our drinking water, plow and maintain our roads, keep our communities safe, and provide countless other services that help Montana families and businesses thrive. They have a right to expect that information released about them is correct and avoids distortions or worse provokes personal attacks on them, their families, and their livelihoods.
Without accuracy and context, MPI’s web site incites the very “conjecture and posturing” that MPI claims to avoid.
Eric Feaver, President