V.I. government salaries: Your right to know
Published: January 25, 2013
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During the next two weeks, The Daily News will publish the payroll list for each department and agency in the Virgin Islands government.
The payroll information for the executive branch, which reflects the 8 percent pay cuts instituted in 2011, was provided to The Daily News by the V.I. Personnel Division in response to the newspaper's request for all government employees' names, positions and salaries. To ensure protection of privacy, the newspaper specified that it did not want - and would not accept - a Social Security number, date of birth or home address for any government employee.
The newspaper made the request under the terms of the V.I. Open Public Records Act (3 Virgin Islands Code sec. 881), which establishes the public's right to know the names of all persons on the government payroll and to know how much those public employees are paid.
The public's right to that information was affirmed in a 1992 ruling by Territorial Judge Ive Arlington Swan, who wrote in his decision:
"This court finds that the disclosure of public employees' names, salaries, job titles, or positions are neither private nor confidential information.
"Public employees are employed by one of the levels of government and, therefore, indirectly employed by the public.
"Who is hired for what position, the titles assigned to those positions, and the salaries paid to those holding particular positions are information the employer-public has a right to know.
"The fact that public employees may prefer that the public not know how much they earn or that they may be embarrassed by disclosure of such information is of no moment."
The Daily News published the government payroll lists in August 2010 and before that in 2006. The public found the information useful in many ways.
- Union officials were able to spot violations of contractual pay scales and were able to see instances of favoritism and political influence in hiring and promotions.
- Government employees were able to see inequities in pay and rank in comparable positions.
- Members of the public were able to identify abuses and misuses of public money. For example, people have spotted employees still on the payroll who died or left government service. In some cases, employees were found to be collecting paychecks from two different government jobs at the same time.
- Taxpayers were able to discover how much political appointees and no-show workers were costing them.
"In light of the recent audit revealing the 29th Legislature's mishandling of $6.9 million of public funds, the need for transparency in government is obvious," said Daily News Executive Editor Gerry Yandel. "Access to government employees' salaries is an essential element of that transparency. That information allows taxpayers to see how their money is being spent and to gauge whether they are receiving the level of service from government agencies that their tax dollars are paying for and whether they are getting what they deserve and expect.
"It should be a red flag for every resident of the territory when their public officials and taxpayer-funded institutions prefer to keep such information hidden, because secrecy is the first step toward corruption and government malfeasance," Yandel said. "The public has a right to know how, where and on who or what every penny of taxpayer money is spent, and in the interest of government accountability, the public should demand no less. Freedom of information is not only the basis for good governance, it is the foundation of our democracy."
Who did not comply
- The University of the Virgin Islands provided the positions and salaries, but not the names of employees.
UVI is a public institution and receives the majority of its funds from the V.I. taxpayers. In Fiscal Year 2013, UVI received $28.1 million from the General Fund.
According to research by The Daily News, UVI is the only public university in America that does not disclose its staff and faculty's names, jobs and salaries.
- The V.I. Waste Management Authority also provided positions and salaries, but no names. Under the V.I. Code, the Waste Management Authority is an autonomous agency, which typically means the agency is self supporting. However, the agency has been funded by federal grants and local funds since it was established in 2003.
In Fiscal Year 2013, the Waste Management Authority received $23.8 million from the General Fund.
When further pressed for a reason why they would not fully comply with the open records request, officials from UVI and Waste Management Authority made it clear that it would take a lawsuit and a further court ruling to get them to comply, according to The Daily News' legal counsel Kevin Rames.
- The V.I. Water and Power Authority responded to The Daily News' request but only submitted the positions and salaries, without the names of the individuals.
- V.I. Government Employees Retirement System Administrator Austin Nibbs did not respond to The Daily News' open records request for employee salaries.
- The V.I. Port Authority responded to The Daily News' request by providing positions and salaries, but no names.