Citizens who wonder how much their top public servants are taking out of their pockets could benefit from a Minnesota law that requires annual notification of the top three public salaries, except for doctors and school officials.
Cities facing steep budget shortfalls and populist anger over administrative salaries may want to look to Minnesota.
The state’s unique transparency law, which requires cities and counties with 15,000 or more people to notify residents of the positions and salaries of its three highest paid employees, can mitigate pay scandals like those in Bell, California, experts say, and keep citizens appraised on spending.
“It gives citizens the opportunity to easily see [the data] and express their opinions,” said Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.
Some Minnesota cities, such as Minneapolis and Maple Grove, list the top salaries and employment positions on their web pages. Others disseminate the information through annual property tax notices or in a publications distributed to residents.
The law, added as an amendment to a budget bill, was passed in 2005, according to Gary Carlson, Director of Government Relations for the League of Minnesota Cities.
Though its standard practice to make salary data available on request, Dalglish said the process is often time consuming and expensive for both citizens and government. She said the law is a positive step.
“You don’t have to do FOIA (freedom of information request) after FOIA,” said Dalglish, who said she didn’t believe any other state proactively offered salary information.
Carlson said the League of Minnesota Cities did not oppose the measure and has no plans to challenge the law. He acknowledged some employees likely find it “personally aggravating” to have their salaries made public.
“To some extent it comes with the territory of being a public employee,” Carlson said. “You have to expect some extra scrutiny.”
State law also prohibits city and county salaries from exceeding that of the governor by more than 110 percent.
The pay cap has at times resulted in difficulties attracting attractive job candidates, Carlson said, but noted a waiver process is available for governments seeking an exemptions.
Both laws exempt doctors and education officials, he said, noting the salaries of education officials have “been an issue from time to time.”
According to a 2003 report conducted by the deputy state auditor, until 1998 school districts had been subject to pay caps restricting overall compensation to no more than 95 percent of the governor’s salary. The report concluded that “compensation packages
exceeding the Governor’s salary are not yet commonplace in Minnesota, but they are on
The average of the top-ten superintendent salaries from the 2008-2009 school year was $186,000; topping the list was Susan Hintz of the Osseo School District, at $194,555 per year.
"Given that this law applies to all other levels of local government and the fact that the majority of K-12 funding comes from the state, it's reasonable to at least consider compensation limits at the school district level," said Jonathan Blake, Vice President of Minnesota Freedom Foundation, a non-profit free-market research group.
Officials of Education Minnesota, the state’s leading teachers union, were reached Friday, but were unable reach a spokesperson for comment.
Jonathan Miltimore is a national fiscal reporter for The Franklin Center on Government and Public Integrity. [email protected]