There’s a new feature on our Web site today that we believe will generate a whole lot of interest and perhaps a little bit of controversy.
It’s an area on the site called SoundInfo (www.thenewstribune.com/soundinfo). Inside the newsroom we call it our database page, and it makes public information more accessible than it’s ever been. A database is just information organized and sortable by categories. You can get to the information from any computer – at work, at home or at any area library.
Most of what’s on the site isn’t controversial at all:
• Business databases to show you the largest employers in the South Sound, lists of new businesses, and our archive of articles on people who have been promoted or hired at area businesses.
• Information on area schools and day-care providers, including test scores, dropout rates, enrollment data and a list of Pierce County day-care providers.
• Outdoors information, including our Mount Rainier guide, our guide to area hikes, our fishing report, a Puget Sound tide table, and volunteer opportunities where you can help the environment.
The parts that will be most interesting to citizens, and a little controversial, are the databases of public employees’ salaries. (See the story on Tacoma Public Utilities on Page One, or search the whole database – or other government salaries – on SoundInfo.) Some public employees might not like it. We think most citizens will.
On the site you’ll find salaries – sortable by name, job, salary and department – for all state employees, for employees of the Pierce County government and the City of Tacoma, and for school employees statewide.
This information has always been available, if you took the time to travel to a government office and look it up. In more recent years it’s been available either at government Web sites, or at sites where the information is gathered and maintained by individuals or public-interest groups.
For instance, a site run by an individual, Louis Bloom of Camano Island, for several years has listed state employees and school employees’ salaries.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation site has several years of teacher pay data in lists and spreadsheets. The state Office of Financial Management publishes its biennial compensation survey, including all state employees’ names and salaries, on its Web site.
“But we’ve gone beyond just posting the material and taken pains to make the data as useful as possible by putting it in searchable and sortable databases,” said John Henrikson, one of our local news editors and a member of our database team.
“We’ve added functionality to the data,” he said. “Our school employees database combined elements of several different databases kept by the state, so users can look up not only pay, but also college degree, years of experience and whether teachers or administrators have been the subject of disciplinary actions.”
We suspect the salary databases will be briefly controversial. Some public employees will complain that the lists are unnecessary invasions of privacy.
Our response is that the information belongs to the people. Citizens pay the taxes to pay these salaries. Citizens elect the people who run the agencies and administer the pay. In a modern democracy, where information is power, citizens are the boss and they’re entitled to the information.
Our site is the work of our database team: editors Karen Peterson, Mark Briggs, John Henrikson and Hunter George, reporters Ian Demsky and David Wickert, clerical team leader Mary Anderson, Web producer Laura Gentry, and Aaron Ritchey, our news programmer.
The site will grow as we seek or develop more data about the area.
We hope you find it informational – and useful.
Dave Zeeck: 253-597-8434