Article Comment 

Other Editors: Open records should be accessible to all


(Biloxi) Sun Herald



Ever wondered what someone in government is paid -- paid with your hard-earned tax dollars? If you intend to find out, you better grab your own wallet. 


Such was the case when the Sun Herald asked the city of Moss Point for the salaries of its employees. That's something Moss Point doesn't want you to know. 


How do we know? The city wanted us to pay $96.44 to get a simple list of the salaries of the past five chiefs of police and the salary offered Keith Davis. We believe that's the kind of information the mayor and other city officials should know off the top of their heads. 


We heard Davis was offered a very attractive salary to bolt from the Department of Marine Resources. He accepted. Then changed his mind. People were talking. Mayor Mario King wasn't. 


We don't ask for records for fun. We ask for information we believe our readers want to know. And in the case of local, state and federal governments, we're looking for information to help taxpayers hold officials accountable. 


The Sun Herald's Margaret Baker went after the salaries the old-fashioned way. She asked King, who had promised transparency, for them. As CEO of the city, it seems reasonable he would know them or could lay his hands on them without much fuss. He said she would need to fill out a records request. Then the clerk sent her the bill to be paid in advance. It gave no accounting of how the city arrived at the $96.44 figure. 


Government bodies are allowed to charge for the cost of researching and retrieving information. But they are not required to charge. 


We doubt it cost almost $100 bucks to shout out, "Anyone remember what Chief Friendly used to make?" 


We suspect there was no, or little, cost involved. We suspect the charge was designed to keep the information out of the public eye. 


When the Sun Herald asked for every salary of every employee in Harrison County, a much longer list (895 lines to be exact), the charge was $60. Harrison County explained the charge for the IT Department to compile the information in a spreadsheet. 


When the Sun Herald asked the Hancock County Board of Supervisors for a copy of its agreement with the tourism bureau, it was sent in less than a week with an apology for not getting it quicker. There was no charge. 


That's the way government should work. 


The argument for the charges is that researching the requests takes time and time is money. And, charges help prevent a government body from being paralyzed by a deluge of requests. The simple answer in the digital era is to put all public records online and -- that includes a list of salaries paid by taxpayers. 


Most boards do have a web portal of some sort where many records are available. That's commendable. But it's just a start.



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