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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - More on: Controversy about Indiana public employee salary databases

Updating this lengthy ILB entry from Aug. 19th, Michael Austen reported Aug. 27th in the Indianapolis Star:

Indiana law gives you the right to know how much public employees make.

A quick database search on the Indiana Gateway for Government Units is all it takes to see just how much money every teacher, police officer and city council member brought home last year.

Right now, the database includes doctors and staff at county hospitals. But the Indiana Hospital Association is trying to change that.

County hospitals say they're put at a disadvantage when they have to make doctor salaries publicly available, said Spence Grover, vice president of IHA. Doing so gives private hospitals they compete with access to internal information from their publicly owned competitors, but the reverse isn't true. * * *

Although they've been working toward these changes since the beginning of the year, the issue has flared up recently after IndyStar.com published a list of the 20 highest paid public employees in Indiana. Six doctors from hospitals in Dearborn and Daviess counties were on the list, and the best paid among them brought in $768,588 last year.

Most hospitals didn't disclose salaries at all. So there could be higher paid doctors at any of the public hospitals that didn't file required forms with the state.

An advisory opinion issued this month by Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office confirms that the law does require county hospitals to report employee compensation to the state. It leaves unanswered the question of whether the state can keep that information to itself and prevent its public release.

That still needs to be settled by the State Board of Accounts, the agency charged with collecting compensation data for every unit of government in Indiana.

The attorney general's opinion was issued at the State Board of Accounts' request and after receiving input from the hospital association, said Bryan Corbin, a spokesperson for Zoeller's office.

Paul Joyce, state examiner with the Board of Accounts, said he wants to ensure the law is interpreted and applied the same way to all public hospitals. Right now, it isn't.

This year, fewer than half the state's county hospitals filed compensation disclosure forms with the state.

"My goal," Joyce said, "is 100 percent compliance."

That may prove harder than it sounds. In this situation, the state is powerless to enforce the law. * * *

It would take legislation to create a new method for enforcing the law, but there are other issues at stake here, including accountability and access to public records.

Although they may not be units of government in the same way state agencies or city councils are, county hospitals are still accountable to the people of the state, even if they don't receive money generated by taxes, said Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.

Key said the compensation should be reported to the state and made publicly available upon request.

By January, when the compensation disclosure forms are due, Joyce said he and the board hope to be done reviewing their options. That's when they should know whether or not they'll be publishing county hospital salaries online next year.

Until then, the data is out there — at least for the 12 county hospitals that reported compensation.

ILB: See also this Aug. 22nd NY Times story by Alina Tugend headed "Secrecy About Salaries May Be on the Wane."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 2, 2014 08:39 AM
Posted to Indiana Government