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Court: Government salaries are public info

The state Supreme Court ruled today that the salaries of government employees in California are a matter of public record and must be available upon request to “ensure transparency in government.” The decision, stemming from a lawsuit the Contra Costa Times brought against the City of Oakland, ends a three-year-long legal battle.

The decision overrules a 2003 appellate court decision in a San Mateo County case that governments have cited to block access to salary data. In that San Mateo County case, Superior Court Judge Rosemary Pfeiffer refused to allow the release of salaries of government employees in five cities to the Palo Alto Daily News. Her ruling was upheld by an appeals court. The decision caused several cities in the region to stop providing salary data to the media.

“I think this is a landmark opinion affirming the public’s right of access to information about how the government is run and how tax dollars are spent,” said Karl Olsen, the attorney for the CC Times.

Some excerpts from today’s ruling:

In a separate case, the state Supreme Court ruled today that public has the right to inspect the hiring records of police agencies throughout California and to learn the names and salaries of government employees. The Los Angeles Times sued after the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which keeps a database on the employment history of all police officers in the state, refused to release such records. [Video of newsroom reaction] [PDF of the ruling] [CC Times story with a timeline at the end]

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