How Much Should The Media Know?

Awhile back the Tennessean got a hold of a list of state employees names, titles, and how much they're paid. They posted this as a searchable database on their website. If you've ever had a job then you can probably imagine what kind of havoc this created around state offices. It's almost never good for a group of people that work together to know how much all their coworkers get paid. It never fails to foster resentment among friends.

Well they're doing it again now. The state Department of Personnel received an info request from the Tennessean again. I guess after the mayhem when the Tennessean published it last time, someone thought it was good to give us advance notice this time because I obtained a copy of the info request. The request came by email and was quiet specific in what it wanted. It laid out the desired database of info in the order they wanted, what went into each field, and how to format the data so they could import it to their own software.

Now I can understand why the Tennessean wants salary information on state employees. I still think it was irresponsible of them to publish it as a searchable database, but I can see how they might find some newsworthy things in there. What disturbs me is that this time they specifically asked for home addresses of every employee. Not just cities or zip codes so they could do some sort of geographic analysis. They asked for specific street addresses.

It has caused quite a stir in the office. The responses I've personally witnessed range from outrage to apathy. My personnel response is probably outraged apathy. I think it's a little outrageous, but there's nothing I can really do to change it. If I get bored this weekend maybe I'll email the Tennessean and my state representatives, but I'm fairly certain it would be a waste of time. Frankly I'm just glad they aren't giving out social security numbers.

That actually happened to a co-worker once. He was working on a controversial project (State Route 840) and a landowner was upset that it was taking part of his property. So the guy came downtown and requested my co-worker's personnel record. The personnel folks gave it to him everything they had and didn't block out social security numbers, addresses, or personal phone numbers. The only reason my co-worker was ever even aware of this was because the outraged landowner also made a stop at our office with the file in hand. This is also a guy that had threatened TDOT surveyors with a rifle so the whole thing was pretty ugly.

I checked the Tennessee Code. According to TCA 10-7-5.03 everything in my personnel file is public record. It doesn't even except health records or social security numbers. According to state law they could probably even get the bank account number where my paycheck is deposited. The only reason that stuff isn't giving out is because of the Feds.

So I'm curious about what non-governement employees think. Any of you think it's good for the Tennessean to have my personnel info in a searchable database on their website? How much of my info are you guys entitled to? I'm a small fish so most likely nothing will ever come of it, but there is a certain principle here.


Anonymous Trent said...

Hi... I posted this on MCB but I wanted to post this here, too.

As a reporter, you often need an address or other piece of data to cross-reference your facts. For example: Is the John Smith who gave a political campaign five large the same John Smith who got a no-show job with the government. If you’re a reporter who doesn’t want to make a horrible mistake of accusing someone of something he didn't do, getting info like addresses can make all the difference.

3:50 AM, August 18, 2007  
Anonymous john h said...

W - shoot me an email sometime and tell me where you (and your dad) work..you may have told me this already, but I plead my age..
(hutchmo@aol.com). I used to work in HSA Bureau of Health. I now work in OITS (systems) but I'm doing EXACTLY the same stuff.

Good synopsis of the issues. I wrote a few bureau chiefs and big personnel to complain but they mostly told me nicely to shut up and then kind of wondered how I got a memo dated August 21 on August 17th..I think they were FAR more interested in that piece of info, than in anything I had to say.

Trent - I do believe there are ways of getting our addresses if needed for a story, without wholesale asking for every damn address of every state employee. I may trust you with this info, but there are plenty of folks I don't trust.

9:49 AM, August 19, 2007  

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