Editorial: Teach this
PATRICIA LONG may be the
highest-paid teacher at Pacific Grove High School, but judging
by the letter to the editor she sent us this week (and which
appears elsewhere on this page), we certainly hope she isn’t
the most competent, because the letter evinces a shocking lack
of understanding of journalism, politics, economics, history
and the law. If you read the letter, you’ll surely be troubled
to think that the person who wrote it is an educator, and role
model, for our young people.
First of all, you’d expect a petulant preschooler, not a
responsible adult, to accuse a reporter and the editor of The
Pine Cone of having a “vendetta” against public employees
because we think it’s important for the taxpayers to know how
much the people who work for them are paid. It’s fine for Ms.
Long to disagree with our decision to report salary
information for the highest-paid teachers, city officials,
police officers and so forth. But claiming we do so because we
have ill motives is just dumb.
Secondly, it is very well established law in California that
government records — including the names and salaries of
government employees — are public information. Starting with
the Public Records Act of 1968, and then with the adoption of
Proposition 59 in 2004, and continuing right up to the
California Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in International
Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21
vs. Superior Court of Alameda County, it is
emphatically, utterly and indisputably true that the
information we printed, including the fact that Ms. Long’s
compensation and benefits totalled $131,025.44 last year,
belongs to the public. All we did was deliver it to them.
Furthermore, it should be obvious to every disinterested
person that all those laws and court decisions are based on
very sound reasoning. As the Supreme Court explained in Engineers,
“Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a
democracy.” If corruption exists in government, how would it
be exposed and rooted out if government officials were allowed
to keep what they did hidden?
Adding specificity to the point, various judges said over and
over again as the Engineers case made its way through
the courts that the “disclosure of the names of employees in
connection with their individual salaries is in many cases
necessary to disclose inefficiency, favoritism, nepotism and
fraud with respect to the government’s use of public funds for
There was good reason for them to go so far. Recent history
shows that government payroll corruption is, indeed, very
common in this state.
Those are the commonsense legal arguments that support what we did. But there’s also an obvious economic explanation why taxpayers need to know how much public employees are making: It’s their money.
When a business owner and one of his employees negotiate over
pay, they do so on an equally self-interested footing, because
every dollar the employee receives in pay is a dollar the boss
can’t keep for himself in profit. But in government, the
bosses aren’t paying their workers with their own money,
they’re paying them with money that belongs to a group of
people who aren’t even in the room. Thus, full public
disclosure of payroll negotiations between government managers
and workers is required in order for these negotiations to
bear any resemblance to normal economic behavior.
Which brings us to Ms. Long’s utterly irrelevant,
playground-style demand that The Pine Cone reveal the pay of
everybody who works here and all their assets, “including the
editor.” We aren’t paid by taxpayers, ma’am, so it’s none of
We understand that many government employees don’t want
everyone to know how much they make. But as the Supreme Court
explained in Engineers, that consideration is far
outweighed by the benefit to the public of having that
information be known.
So not only do we not apologize for our regular reporting on
this issue, we are proud of it.