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City must release specific teacher salary information

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    News Media Update         ARIZONA         Freedom of Information    

City must release specific teacher salary information

  • Broad salary ranges do not legally satisfy an open records request for individualized city employee salaries, an Arizona trial court has ruled.

Dec. 14, 2004 — The City of Tempe must release specific salary information for all of its employees and cannot instead release salary ranges to satisfy requirements of the state open government law, an Arizona trial court ruled Dec. 3.

In June, Phoenix Public Newspapers Inc., a subsidiary of Gannett Co. Inc. and publisher of The Arizona Republic, requested two years of individualized city employee salary records from the City of Tempe. The city had fully complied with an identical request four times previously, but this time, the city attorney’s office instructed that individualized salary records would be released only for employees earning more than $100,000 a year. The newspaper would only receive generic salary range information for other employees. The newspaper sued.

The Superior Court for Maricopa County confirmed that all individualized payroll records are public information under the Arizona open records law because “Tempe’s employees are paid out of public funds and . . . execute public business.”

Judge Michael D. Jones ruled that Tempe’s refusal to release individualized payroll records appeared to directly contradict its own Personnel Rules and Regulations, which state that any employee’s name, job title, and salary information “shall be disclosed upon request.” Tempe tried to explain the incongruity by claiming that the regulation must have been a clerical error.

Even though the payroll records were public, Jones conceded that their non-disclosure could theoretically be justified by countervailing privacy interests. However, there was no controlling statutory or common law authority in Arizona that recognized such a privacy interest in employee salary information, the court ruled.

Tempe alternatively requested that the court find a constitutional privacy interest to protect the records. The court refused, finding that Tempe had failed to present any convincing evidence as to why the information should be shrouded. For example, Tempe had not made a strong case for why a city employee’s privacy only mattered if their salary was less than $100,000, Jones wrote. Neither did Tempe show the exact harm the disclosure would cause; the court said the city should cite the harm, having “previously released this same information.”

The court ordered the records released within 10 days.

(Phoenix Newspapers, Inc v. City of Tempe, Media Counsel: David J. Bodney, Steptoe & Johnson; Tempe, Arizona) RL

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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