NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) – Removing the names of city workers from a public servant salary list is a blow to transparency and accountability, according to a taxpayer watchdog as New Westminster calls on the province to make the change legal.
A motion passed by councillors last week wants the provincial government to change the Financial Information Act so cities only need to have job titles next to the salaries of public employees. Currently, cities must submit an annual Statement of Financial Information that includes the full names, salaries and expenses of all employees who make more than $75,000 a year.
“I have no concern with us telling people how much wages we pay. My concern is that people’s personal names and information is attached to their wages,” said Coun. Patrick Johnstone, who presented the motion. “We live in an age of social media and where we’re also very cognisant about having respectful workplaces and avoiding bullying or harassment. I just think people have an expectation of privacy.”
Should you know the names of city workers & how much they make?@cityofnewwest wants to remove names and only have job titles on Statements of Financial Information (a list of employees making >$75K/year) @taxpayerDOTcom calls it a blow to transparency. Full story soon #bcpoli
— Lasia Kretzel (@lkretzel1130) May 7, 2019
Johnstone says his motion was not prompted by any specific event or case of bullying or harassment.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), however, says harassment should be dealt with internally and shouldn’t come at the expense of transparency.
“Your boss gets to know how much you make, and in these cases, the boss is the taxpayer,” CTF B.C. Director Kris Sims said. “This issue of harassment can become a red herring. The harassment needs to be dealt with either by the mangers or criminal courts. It should have nothing to do with public disclosure of a salary.”
Removing names could pave the way for cities to ask for removing titles, Sims said. She compares the lack of transparency to citizens and journalist being unable to file freedom of information requests against the legislative assembly, which was brought into the spotlight by the ongoing expense scandal involving Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.
Johnstone said citizens can still search the names of city directors and fire chiefs if they want to match a name with a salary.
“I’m worried about the people who are ‘Planner 3’ or ‘Engineer’ or a supervisor of a yard crew,” he said. “I’m an elected official. I’m happy to have my name attached to my wage and I’m happy to have them come point fingers at me. I don’t think it serves anybody’s purpose to point fingers at an employee who’s just doing the job they’re being told to do.”
The motion will now be presented to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.