Public Employee Salary Databases Push Transparency Debate

Public Employee Salary Databases Push Transparency Debate

by / July 29, 2008

As I write this I am feeling mixed emotions. I'm sure most of my fellow Sacramento Kings fans are as well. News broke that disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy, convicted of betting on games he officiated, claimed in court documents that a certain seven-game playoff series in 2002 was rigged for the league's benefit.

The only series from that year to go seven games was the fabled contest between the Kings and the vile Los Angeles Lakers. It just so happens that Game 6 of that series went down as one of the most shoddily officiated games in sporting history - so much so that observers across the country suspected it of being rigged to ensure a Lakers victory. In fact, it was so bad consumer advocate Ralph Nader filed a letter with the NBA demanding the league investigate the "notorious officiating."

This latest incident is another black mark for the NBA, a company that goes to great lengths promoting a fan-friendly image. And since the Donaghy scandal, the NBA says its operations have become more transparent. It's this transparency that league commissioner David Stern maintains is guarding against corruption.

But the truth is there have long been suspicions that NBA officials routinely and purposely alter the course of certain games. When it comes down to brass tacks, the NBA is a business enterprise first and an athletic competition second. That being the case, it certainly makes financial sense that large market teams like Los Angeles reach the league's pinnacle series. It also makes financial sense for high-profile series to be extended as long as possible. And from a business perspective, it makes no sense at all for the NBA to actually be transparent.

In government, there is a constant call for agencies to be transparent. Many people argue they should be able to see where money is coming from, where it is, and where it goes. After all, government is of the people, by the people and for the people, right? Earlier this year, The Sacramento Bee provoked outrage when it published a California state employee database that listed names, positions and salaries. The newspaper argued public employees' salary information is, in fact, public. However, many public employees were furious, claiming their privacy had been violated. Had it? Did it ever exist in the first place?

Despite the outrage, the question remains: Shouldn't the public be able to find out whatever it wants regarding government? As for the private sector, if business is on the up-and-up, there shouldn't be anything to hide. That's dangerous logic. Besides, it's far easier to not be transparent and probably more profitable too. Why would any organization be transparent if it doesn't have to be? Government could take a page from the NBA by simply appeasing the masses with an illusion of transparency. That must have been what Stern thought. That is, until a man he thought he'd seen the last of called foul.

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.