The head of the state’s largest public employees union sent a letter Wednesday to the head of a Bozeman-based think tank, saying employee salary information from the state posted on his site was incorrect and suggested a neutral site providing the same information be created.
However, Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute and publisher of Montana Watchdog, said the information posted on the opengovmt.org site is exactly how it was released from the state.
He also said he would take down the state employee pay portion of his website, if the state would post that information. But he would leave up the statistical information posted on the site.
“I would take down our pay portion in a second,” he told Montana Watchdog. “We only did it, because we had to, they (the state) would not.”
Eric Feaver, executive director of MEA-MFT, the state’s largest public employee union, said in an e-mail that he has told Graham that information on the site was inaccurate and promoted conjecturing and posturing by “voyeurs” looking at the information.
Opengovmt.org was launched July 12, listing salary and benefit information on nearly 14,789 state employees free to the public.
And it lists the numbers of unionized state employees by bargaining agent 2009-2011, number of unionized state employees by agency, annual payroll for executive branch employees by county in which they live, employees by agency, average age and average years of services, and information on full-time employees. People can search for information by name, location, department and other criteria.
The site crashed from overuse shortly after it was launched. The site reportedly had 10,000 hits within the first hour it was launched.
“Some people will use this data to say we’re paying them too much, and some will say we’re not paying them enough,” Graham said in an email to MPI supporters. “MPI is neutral on that. But the point is that we can now have an informed debate and make decisions based on facts rather than conjecture or posturing. That’s good for the state and good, we think, for our workers.”
In an “Open letter to MPI,” Feaver said his union supports “open, accountable government,” but said MPI’s site was an “inaccurate presentation.” He said the information had incorrect percentage increases for salaries, did not disaggregate reimbursement for personal expenses and did not give context to compensation packages for severance.
He said, “MPI’s presentation of the ‘facts’ is flawed and distorts the reality of state employee salaries and benefits.”
The information on the site is how the state presented it to MPI, Graham said.
In an e-mail to MPI supporters Wednesday, Graham accused the MEA-MFT of resorting to the “same old attacks” of accusing MPI of bias in its presentation of the employee pay date.
He said it was “shocking! - that you and I simply think the public and our citizen legislators have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent.”
MPI got the information for its opengovmt.org site after taking the state to court. State officials balked at providing some of the information MPI requested. On Jan. 27, 1st Judicial District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in favor of MPI.
“The court concludes that the most liberal application of the public’s right to know applies to the state of Montana and requires the Department to provide the information requested by Policy Institute,” McCarter wrote.
McCarter noted MPI requested the actual pay rate of state employees, including each employee’s actual yearly base pay as well as each employee’s actual yearly total pay broken down by base, overtime, other salary, bonus pay, buyout/early retirement and other compensation including by not limited to reimbursement and travel.
The judge also ruled the state pay MPI’s legal fees, which was settled at $5,700.
MPI made multiple requests to Department of Administration officials dating back to August 2010 for “state employee actual compensation data,” according to an affidavit by Graham.
In his email Wednesday, Feaver tells Graham he and the unions should “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?”
Feaver and Graham are scheduled to discuss the website Monday during a taping of Beartooth NBC’s “The Dunwell Report.” The show will air 10 p.m. Sunday. It will also air 5 a.m. July 30, 11 a.m. Aug. 1 on CW10 and 5:30 p.m. Aug. 4 on Beartooth NBC.