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Monday, June 17, 2024

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Government Transparency

Why No Names in County Salary Resolutions?

By Erin Ledwon

The Board of County Commissioners meets twice a month, where they typically approve a salary resolution, which “authorizes the hiring of new County employees, temporary assignment pay, salary changes or corrections, title changes and promotions of County employees when applicable,” per the meeting agendas posted to the county website.

The Herald has been publishing the salary resolutions on our website for quite some time and believe me, when we don’t, we hear about it from readers. However, we noticed a change in the salary resolutions beginning with the one approved at the Feb. 28, 2023, meeting, soon after Leonard Desiderio was chosen as the director of the board. Where once there were employees’ names listed, first and last, now there are only ID numbers.

Why the change? Most of the people reading the resolutions do not know which ID number belongs to which employee. It appears the county no longer wishes to be transparent about who is being hired and who is receiving a raise. Why is that? Might there be some similar last names that the county doesn’t want us to see? Perhaps not, but this change gives this perception regardless of the county’s reason.

The Herald decided this year that we would work to get the employee names associated with the ID numbers after it was made clear to us that readers wanted this information. After all, it’s public information. That goal has been easier said than done. After a few email exchanges at the end of January, I was told that I had to submit the request through OPRA. I was asked to email my request to OPRA@co.cape-may.nj.us, which I did. I received a response five business days later that my request was denied, as it “seeks information and does not identify specific government records.” However, in that same response, I was provided with a list of employee IDs and names. Great, but there was one problem. The list did not provide all the ID numbers and names listed under ‘New Hires & Replacements’ in the current salary resolution.

My communications asking how I could get the missing information went unanswered, so I reached out to county Administrator Kevin Lare. At first, he told me to file an OPRA request. When I told him that resulted in what appeared to be an outdated list, he said, “New hires have not hit payroll yet so their info is not reflected in the document provided – There is typically a 2 to 3 week lag depending on when employees start and pay dates.”

So, now I must file an OPRA request two to three weeks after a salary resolution is approved to get the names and ID numbers on that resolution, then publish the list separately on the Herald’s website, which will require readers to go back to a salary resolution from two to three weeks prior to get the names they seek. Fine, I’ll do my part. I have no problem taking up my time filing the request every two to three weeks and taking up a county employee’s time having to fulfill that request. What I don’t appreciate is the burden this will put on the public. Why is the county making them jump through hoops to see this public information that used to be provided to them?

We call on the county to get rid of the ID numbers and return to putting first and last names on the county salary resolutions. The public has a right to know who they’re paying with their tax dollars. And the board? Which attitude would they like to portray? One that makes it look like they don’t care to tell the public about the work the public hired them to do or one of public servants doing the public’s work?

We want the public to know that we will continue to report on this issue until it’s resolved.

ED. NOTE: The author is the managing editor of the Cape May County Herald.

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