New Mexico Must Remove Public Workers' Names from Online Salary Listings

The ruling is a victory for the public employee union that challenged the practice.
by | July 24, 2012

An Albuquerque judge on Monday ordered Gov. Susana Martinez's administration to remove the names of rankand-file state employees from a state-run online database that includes their salaries, granting a victory to a public employee union that challenged the practice.

A Governor's Office spokesman said the administration will look into whether the information can be posted on another public website after the ruling by 2nd District Judge Valerie Huling.

"This is public information that is routinely produced and is even available on other websites in New Mexico," Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said. "The judge ruled that it cannot be displayed on the Sunshine Portal itself, so we will explore options for making the user-friendly version of this data available on another public website."

Darnell also said Martinez's office will push for legislation in 2013 to expand the Sunshine Portal -- the state's online database -- to include the names of classified state workers, along with their job titles and salaries. An attempt to pass such legislation failed this year.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored the 2010 bill that created the Sunshine Portal, said he will sponsor the legislation to expand the portal.

"It is unfortunate that a judge has rendered a decision to deny the citizens of New Mexico easy access to public information about how their taxpayer dollars are being spent," Rue said Monday. "This decision is a blow to open and transparent government."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 filed a lawsuit last month challenging the Martinez administration's decision to post the names and salaries of all state workers -- from janitors to elected officials -- on the Sunshine Portal.

Albuquerque attorney Shane Youtz, who represented AFSCME in the case, said the law that created the online portal says that only the job titles, state agency and salary levels of the roughly 18,000 rank-and-file state workers are to be posted on the site -- no names.

However, he acknowledged that such information is available under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

"We don't assert there's an absolute right to privacy here," Youtz said Monday. "It's publicly available information, but if someone wants to know a classified employee's name and salary, they have to file a (public records) request. That provides for some sort of accountability."

In addition to salary information, the Sunshine Portal offers a sortable database containing information on state spending, revenue and more.

Previously, the online portal listed both the names and salary information only for certain political appointees, or so-called exempt employees, and elected officials.

Martinez announced in October 2011 that the names and salaries of all workers -- including classified employees -- would be added to the site, saying at the time that citizens pay the salaries of state workers and should know what they earn.

AFSCME, which represents more than 10,000 public sector employees in New Mexico, sent Martinez a letter in February asking that the names of classified employees be removed. When Martinez's office did not oblige, the union responded by filing the lawsuit.

AFSCME Interim Executive Director Connie Derr lauded Monday's ruling, saying, "This is, once again, a demonstration that the governor can't pick and choose which laws she's going to abide by."

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has backed Martinez's decision to expand the Sunshine Portal, asserting that the names and salaries of state workers is public information.

(c)2012 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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