This week, the Kentucky New Era began publishing salary data in regard to public officials in Christian County, Hopkinsville, Oak Grove and in the public school system.
Why you might ask? Because these are public records, and you have the right to that information -- especially since your tax dollars pay these salaries.
The Freedom of Information Act of 1967, referred to by many as Sunshine Laws, was enacted to create greater transparency in government from the federal level down to state and local government entities. Under FOIA, citizens can request to view or copy any government record that is not exempt due to privacy, national security and law enforcement concerns.
Although there are exceptions, the compensation of public employees and elected officials is not one of them.
The New Era newsroom embarked on this project in March of this year during Sunshine Week - an initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information. The annual week of awareness has been coordinated by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) every year since 2005.
Each reporter and editor in the New Era newsroom requested salary information from local government entities -- first, to know where our tax dollars are going, and second, to know what to expect from the entities that distribute salaries derived from those taxes. Since then, the journalists at the newspaper have compiled a searchable online database to organize and help the casual reader understand the information.
Understanding public service salaries helps the community appreciate how valuable the roles of public servants are in the function of government. From the judge-executive to fiscal court, focusing on ordinances and legislation, to the public works director managing quality-of-life systems, to law enforcement focusing on safety and the school superintendent help plan education for the future, each role is tasked with moving the city, county or system forward and it is important that they are valued fairly and competitive to surrounding regions.
We would like to give kudos to the records custodians of each local entity as the New Era received zero pushback for these requests of salary data. Though prepared to appeal any roadblock to the state attorney general's office, we are pleased that our local governmental entities were both cooperative and facilitative.
We encourage our readers to file their own open records requests for questions they might have about local government. This public information is as accessible to you as it is to any journalist in any newsroom. Most entities have a simple form to fill out and a three-day window to respond.
And don't you worry, we will be filing more too. It's just part of the job.