County Executive Jan Gardner and Del. Jesse Pippy, chair of the county’s delegation in Annapolis, briefly clashed Wednesday over a proposed bill that would modify the state’s Public Information Act regarding county employee salaries.
At a meeting between the delegation and Gardner, the county executive briefly outlined the bill with the help of Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum. If the bill passes, salaries for county division directors and other at-will positions, like the CAO, would still need to be disclosed.
But only a salary range would be disclosed for lower-tier employees, like a bus driver or landfill worker, in order to prevent organizations like data mining companies from stealing financial information and participating in other forms of identity theft, Harcum and Gardner said.
Harcum pointed to his work before he joined county government, where many lower-level federal employees were exempt from providing exact salary information.
“Why we’re forced to disclose to the penny, the exact dollar amount that low-level staff make is beyond me,” Harcum said of the current public information law.
But Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) said the transparency of county government salaries outweighs the identity theft concerns. Taxpayers deserve to know what those employees make, he added.
“I think that anybody who signs up to work in public office does sacrifice some privacy to be in that position ... people have a genuine interest in who pays us and how much we are paid,” Pippy said. “So I would have a real difficult time making it easier to not make that information available, especially [if] that involves taxpayer dollars.”
“I always lean on, the more information the public has, the better,” Pippy later added.
He also pointed to an argument from Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick), who said even if salary ranges are disclosed for low-level employees, that wouldn’t necessarily protect them from identity theft.
But Gardner (D) pushed back on that argument, equating Pippy’s argument to an “apples and oranges” comparison. High-level appointed employees and elected officials like herself would not be affected by the law change, she said.
Lower-level employees are different than high-level elected officials in county and state government, Gardner said. Pippy, in part of his argument, said state delegates and senators needed to disclose their financial information each year.
“Our division directors have to do financial disclosure,” Gardner said. “But the average guy working on the highway crew or at the landfill or in an administrative position does not have to do a financial disclosure ... so I just felt that comparison was not that appropriate.”
Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick) was concerned the proposed change could be more of a statewide issue than just Frederick County. She suggested an organization like the Maryland Association of Counties could take up the issue.
Harcum said he would like Frederick County to lead efforts on a possible change to the law.
“I would love it if Frederick County led the state to catch up with where the federal government has been for many, many years,” Harcum said.
He recognizes, however, there might not be widespread support.
“Everybody realizes it’s going to run up against a healthy and respectable debate about transparency,” he said.