The Reno Gazette-Journal won a court battle on Friday for access to information about public employees.
The newspaper reported it requested the names and salaries of, and overtime pay received by, public employees in area counties, cities and school districts earlier this year. While the government agencies were willing to fulfill the request, a union representing police officers sued to stop the release.
The union argued that the release of the names would put public employees in danger, while the newspaper argued the records were public, partly given a strong interest in knowing how taxpayer money is spent.
Beryl Love, executive editor of the Gazette-Journal, told the paper, “One only needs to look at what happened in Reno City Council this week — the threat of layoffs and salary cuts, accusations of overtime abuse, a possible reduction in services."
Washoe County District Judge Patrick Flanagan reasoned in his decision, “The safety concerns presented to the court were both personal and hypothetical.”
“For example,” he wrote, “Washoe County Sheriff Deputy Edwards testified that he has received physical threats from inmates or other convicted persons while working in the jail. . . . Upon cross-examination, the Deputy conceded that the inmate obtained his name through the course of his work and personal interaction with the inmate while on the job.”
Many of the comments in response to a story about the ruling on the newspaper’s Web site echoed the union’s safety concerns and seemed to support withholding of the names.
The dispute in Reno is similar to an ongoing dispute for access to the names of public employees in Wisconsin, in which the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief.