|NMU||IDAHO||Freedom of Information||Nov 26, 2002|
Hospital must release employee names and salary information
- A Twin Falls newspaper can see a medical center’s salary records under the open records law, the state’s high court ruled Nov. 22.
Magic Valley Regional Medical Center must release all names and salaries of its employees making more than $50,000 a year, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled Nov. 22.
The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, filed suit after it was refused the salary records in May 2001. Although the newspaper was given a list of employees, all the names except those of two vice presidents and an administrator were redacted.
The court unanimously refused to overturn a lower court ruling that granted The Times-News full access to the documents it requested.
“We conclude that had the legislature intended to exempt employees’ names from disclosure, it would have expressly so provided,” the court stated. It added that the hospital was wrong in blacking out employee names: “For personnel information that is subject to disclosure to have any meaning at all, the name of the involved officials and applicants also must be disclosed.”
The hospital argued that the court should look to the federal Freedom of Information Act and the privacy exemptions contained in it, when it determines whether this information should be released. In response, the court held that the federal FOI Act cannot be applied either directly or indirectly in interpreting Idaho’s personnel records exemption.
“We wanted to have a general look at the hospital’s financial picture and we asked for a broad range of information about the hospital’s payroll and spending,” said Clark Walworth, managing editor of The Times-News. “We want to be able to reveal what’s going on with the payroll. We want to look for things like nepotism and double dipping.”
A “line in the sand” was drawn once the information was held back from the newspaper. “We could not just walk away from this, because then other public officials would have started withholding information from us, as well,” Walworth said.
(Magic Valley Newspapers, Inc. v. Magic Valley Regional Medical Center; Media counsel: Richard Bevan, Hollifield & Bevan, Twin Falls) — GS
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press