Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Public Information Act

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Did you ever write to request information under Maryland’s PIA laws?  It is a pain in the neck.  One gets the run around.  However, write under the Freedom of Information Act and the Feds throw tons of stuff at you.

Reporters and Newspapers are familiar with the process and is every level of Government.  That is why I don’t understand why Howard County has failed to respond to a PIA request from the Baltimore Examiner.

The failure to respond to PIA places the County at risk of being sued and/or penalized.  Mr. Ulman owes an explanation as to why the County has failed to respond (that means they could say buzz off we aren’t giving you the information or they could supply the requested information) within the required 30 days.  Don’t tell me it is not his responsibility to explain.  At the point the County failed to follow the law in this matter they left the County exposed to legal action.  As such this matter deems Mr. Ulman’s attention.

An alert reader sent this information from the Baltimore Examiner

BALTIMORE  – What a difference 30 miles can make. In Baltimore City, the police department either refuses to answer questions about overtime or will not without a Maryland Public Information Act request, which gives government 30 days to respond. In Carroll County, the police outline why and how overtime was used — and what specifically it did for taxpayers — upon request.

How refreshing.

The deputy earning the highest overtime in Carroll, Conrad Dill, earned $21,084 extra last year chasing motorists who did not stop for school buses. We still don’t know how Baltimore City Detective Albert Marcus, the highest-paid police employee in his department, earned $104,423 in overtime in 2006, bumping his salary to $167,421. Protecting and serving in Baltimore City requires different tactics and more frequent work in life threatening situations than in Carroll, but taxpayers in every jurisdiction deserve transparency.

That’s why The Baltimore Examiner requested — as any resident can — salary and overtime information for public employees in our coverage area: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Howard County, Harford County, and Anne Arundel County. It’s also why we have published and will continue to make available that information in print and online as it comes.

Aside from Baltimore City and Carroll, Baltimore County and Harford County have promised to make the information available. Howard and Anne Arundel counties have not responded to the request within the 30 days allotted under the Maryland Public Information Act. They must earn the public’s trust. We all are waiting. To residents of those counties, call Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold at 410-222-1821 and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman at 410-313-2013 and tell them to release the information.

Some public employees say that salary and overtime information should be secret. We don’t think so, and the law says the data are open.

Scrutiny makes everyone more efficient and honest. Sunshine only embarrasses employees who cheat taxpayers and officials who let them do it.

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31 Responses to “Public Information Act”

  1. How Much do Ulman's Buddies Get Paid? said

    This is unreal, but is not surprising that a pro-union candidate who hired several old friends for jobs would then be reluctant to release the salary information.

    Actually, I think a more innocent explanation is that Howard County doesn’t respond to information requests. I never received responses for several inquiries I have lodged. No response at all, not even a denial.

    Couldn’t one use the Public Information Act to resolve several outstanding issues, like what state positions have existed and how much they spend on Ulman’s driver?

  2. Public Servant said

    I don’t know the date the Examiner made their official request, but it appears the County did respond and the Examiner may have jumped the gun on this issue.

    I am no fan of the Office of Law, however I can tell you from experience that the Office of Law (who reviews all requests for information and their responses to ensure compliance with disclosure laws) will usually use every possible day to respond to a request under the PIA. And yes, they may not respond to all requests. I can not explain the reasoning behind the lack of responses.

    I will offer this, as with anyother department/office in the county, they do not have enough people for the amount of work that comes through their office. Needless to say issues are then prioritized and dealt with accordingly.

    http://www.examiner.com/a-758051~Training_and_staff_shortages_lead_to_rise_in_expenses__overtime.html

    http://www.examiner.com/a-758050~Public_safety_dominates_Howard_s_OT_spending.html

  3. John B. said

    I’ve never made a request in MD, but when I lived in MA you got the feeling that the PIA requests you made (at least in Suffolk County) went straight into the “round file.” Never a response of any sort. Probably just a staffing/resources issue, but frustrating as all heck.

    John B.

  4. John Q said

    I wish they wouldn’t give the names of the employees. They can simply state the rank.

  5. Freemarket said

    The salaries of elected officials and their appointees should be public knowledge. However, the salary info of firefighters, police, highway workers, etc. should not. These working folks have no political pull benefit themselves. Just because our tax dollars pay their salaries is not relevant. I own stock in various corporations, but I went to the corporate headquarters and said that I was a stockholder and demanded to know the salary of Joe Blow the office worker I would be to piss off, and rightly so.

    PIA or not, this is an invasion of privacy.

  6. timactual said

    “However, the salary info of firefighters, police, highway workers, etc. should not.”

    Why on earth not? It is, after all, our money, and these people work for us. They are not drafted. In any case, salaries and wages for most government jobs, federal, state, and local, are usually publicly available. Try google. If someone is making an amount considerably different from the published schedule, I think we should know why. It is, after all, our government.

  7. John Q said

    Tim Actual-

    Please provide your full name, department, position/title, and annual salary.

    Then, we’ll continue this conversation.

  8. Freemarket said

    I am not complaining, but why didn’t the Examiner release any salary information for school system related salaries? There were no teachers or classroom assistants on the list. As long the Examiner is flagrantly invading the privacy of County employees, why not get them all?

  9. somebody said

    The County does not control school system salaries. The school system, like HCC and the library, are entities created by the State. The County funds them, but has little control… no control over salaries.

  10. Freemarket said

    Oh, thanks Somebody. Does that mean that the School System is not subject to PIA requests?

  11. Freemarket,

    The school system is also subject to PIA.

    http://www.oag.state.md.us/Opengov/pia.htm

    “[a]ll persons are entitled to have access to information
    about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.” The
    right is made clear in SG §10-613(a)(1), which states that, “[e]xcept as otherwise provided
    by law, a custodian shall permit a person or governmental unit to inspect any public record
    at any reasonable time.” Inspection or copying of a public record may be denied only to the
    extent permitted under the PIA. SG §10-613(a)(2).

  12. Freemarket said

    Thanks, Somebody. Does that mean that the HoCo public school system is not subject to PIA requests?

  13. John Q said

    Here’s the language that specifically mentions school districts:

    The PIA covers virtually all public agencies or officials in the State. It includes all branches of State government (legislative, judicial, and executive). On the local level, the PIA covers all counties, cities, towns, school districts, and special districts. See SG §§10-601 and 10-611(g)(1)(i).

  14. Freemarket said

    Thanks for the info David and John Q. Sorry for the double comment- my computer must be doing something goofy.

  15. Question Re: Civil Servants said

    Does Ho Co have any purely apolitical civil service positions or can Ulman install anyone he wants into any given position?

  16. John Q said

    No. There are “elected” positions, “appointed” positions and regular, “apolitical” positions. For example, the support staff of the County Council are not appointed or elected positions (except for each councilperson’s special assistant and the council administrator). These people have their applications vetted by HR, are interviewed by the respective department managers, go through a police dept background check, and are hired just like an employee of a private firm.

    That’s the point. Ulman (or any other figure) has no say over who plows after a snow fall or who takes your tax payment check. Why divulge that Joe Snowblower makes $38k a year?

  17. timactual said

    John Q Says:
    June 4th, 2007 at 7:25 am
    “Tim Actual-

    Please provide your full name, department, position/title, and annual salary.

    Then, we’ll continue this conversation.”

    If I were working for you and you were paying me, you would have a right to know. Otherwise, it ain’t none of your business.

    Just a sample;
    http://www.co.ho.md.us/DOA/hr_joblistings.asp
    As I mentioned, salary,wage and benefit information for public employees is already available. It took me a little over a minute to find this.

  18. Freemarket said

    Timactual- the police, firefighters, highway people, etc. are not working for you any more than the person at Starbucks who takes your order is working for you. County workers, like Starbucks employees, are directly accountable to their supervisors, and their salaries should be none of your business. The information you linked to is not particularly relevant since it shows current job openings, not actual salary information with the names of the actual employees.

  19. I guess this comes down to how strongly one believes in open government. I believe the salaries of all public employees should be open to public scrutiny. If one takes a job in the public sector they should know that being on the public payroll means they give up this right to privacy. I would have no expectations otherwise if I worked for government.

    Knowing what our government pays its employees is critical to the idea of open government and accountability. I want to know that government has to reveal all its expenses and what happens with our tax dollars. Access to this information ensures that no one is playing with the books.

    Are there exception to this? Probably but rare. An under cover police officer may be put at risk if this info. was released and I would not want that to happen.

    Interestingly enough this issue is currently before the California Supreme Court.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp?articleId=6022003&siteId=568

  20. John Q said

    It isn’t a matter of what our govt pays its employees that I have a problem with, but what our government pays which employees. Naming the secretaries in the Dept of Public Works does not add anything to the public’s right to information. Listing the position and salary is all that is important.

    There’s a big stink among the County employees right now due to this release of information. At the very least, it isn’t communicated to them (not well, at least) that their personal income is to be published yearly in nationally circulated papers.

    Also, i don’t see how releasing this information assures you that no one is “playing with the books.” That makes no sense. Are you going to ask to see receipts for their Office Depot orders too? No, because that level of detail isn’t pertinent to the taxpayers’ perception of accountability. Please tell me how having the names of every county employee and their individual salary is necessary vs. listing position and salary.

    And yes, names of undercover officers were released in the Baltimore County list. This affected a coworker of mine whose husband is undercover.

  21. I never said I wanted employee names. I don’t know where that came from. Maybe the privacy comment I made? If so I didn’t mean to imply I wanted names.

    It is about open government. Do I want to audit every receipt? Of course not. Someone might want to though. The fact is it is our money. The government is entrusted with its stewardship and they must be held accountable.

  22. Freemarket said

    Does the County Government get audited by an external CPA firm? I know, for example, that the Howard County Library is audited by Reznick Group because the audit is available on the Library’s website.

  23. Reznick audited them in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

  24. timactual said

    There was an article in the paper recently about overtime payments to Wash. DC police officers. One officer made over $100,000 in overtime in 2006. I can think of a reason or two why DC residents might legitimately be a little curious about that, but it isn’t any of their business, right? They can rest assured that their local politicians, with a proven track record of integrity and efficiency, will make sure everything is as it should be.

    Some employees are required to be randomly tested for drugs.

    “Please tell me how having the names of every county employee and their individual salary is necessary vs. listing position and salary.”

    Position and salary is fine.

  25. Suzette said

    It is time for Howard County Government to come clean, I have first hand knowledge that Howard County is mis handling our monies. There are folks on the payroll who are not employed by the County,they work for other people but Howard County has them on the payroll. If you all really knew what the salaries are for some of the employees, I think you would be extremely upset. I encourage all to put more pressure on Ulman’s office to honor The Public Information Act! They should not have a choice in the matter.

  26. Public Servant said

    If you have information like that, than report it to the proper authorities. Or better yet, give the information to the press and let them pursue the lead if you do not trust “the government.” I am sure they would love to bring down a big fish.

    Buy the way, the Ulman administration did honor the Public Information Act, as well as a State Attorney General’s opinion on this matter, by releasing the records required by the Act/Opinion.

    Once again, if you have first hand knowledge of county money being misspent/mishandled, than step up to the plate and report it.

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