Filed Under:  Local, News

New initiative shines spotlight on salaries at City Hall

28th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

At a time when residents are forced to navigate streets riddled with potholes, missing street signs, overgrown weeds on public lands and broken street lights and City Hall is seeking to raise property taxes to pay for OPP and NOPD consent decrees, The Lens has launched an initiative called “The Vault” that shines a light on the annual salaries of employees in the Landrieu administration. The initiative provides information about all of the 4,100 employees at City Hall, regardless of whether they were appointed or hired through the Civil Service system. The salaries listed range from $18,500 to $236,000.

The information provided on the site is current as of May 3, 2014 and The Lens plans to update the information annually.

In an article dated July 22, The Lens said it published the salaries of City Hall’s top earners because “[t]hese salaries, like everything else in The Vault, are public information. But they’re not that easy to find. In the case of city salaries, you would have to file a public-records request. In 2014, we think it should be easier to get public information. So we made it easier.”

As to whether the information provided constitutes an invasion of privacy, The Lens wrote, “Like in other states, employees’ salaries are considered public information under the state’s public records law. We chose to include names in part because people may not know an employee’s position, but they do know her name.

“We understand that some people may not want their pay to be publicized,” The Lens continued. “No one will be able to Google an employee’s name and immediately see how much he makes. However, people will be able to find our tool through Google and search there.”

“I think it’s a great idea — I wonder why nobody came up with this sooner,” Gentilly resident Tootie Francis told The Louisiana Weekly. “I’m tired of paying taxes and getting nothing back from City Hall. You know, people say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, so maybe this will help City Hall to clean up its act. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Francis said she plans to use The Vault regularly to look closely at where her tax dollars are going and intends to share information about the initiative with her friends on Facebook and Twitter.”This is something that everyone needs to know about,” she said.

Some residents might be surprised to learn how many people appointed by the mayor are earning six-figure salaries or how little some City Hall employees earn annually.

Earlier this year, with the Land­rieu administration seeking to change Civil Service hiring procedures at City Hall and raise the minimum wage for city employees to $10 an hour, The Lens published a story about how the Landrieu administration’s inner circle has continued to get pay raises as the city sought to raise Sewerage & Water Board service rates and threaten to cut city services or furlough employees to pay for the two federally mandated consent decrees.

According to information gathered by The Vault, Judy Reese Morse, executive assistant to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, earns an annual salary of $154,500. Lan­drieu spokesman Tyler Gamble earns $70,600; Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, who was recently named S&WB chairman, earns $164,000 and NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas earns $186,000 a year. Until his recent termination, Taxicab Bureau chief Malachi Hull was bringing home an annual salary of $87,000.

“When you see some of the top earners in the Landrieu administration fighting hard to advance the mayor’s agenda, they’re often not fighting so much for the mayor out of a sense of loyalty as they are fighting to maintain their standard of living,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Apparently, being on the mayor’s team pays very well.”

“More pose to The Lens for shining a spotlight on City Hall’s financial dealings,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “There’s a lot going on right under our noses that the average taxpayer knows nothing about. Hopefully, this service will lead to more residents demanding transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability from City Hall.”

“Our goal with this project is to help you see what your government is up to,” The Lens wrote. “Our customers are neighborhood leaders, elected officials, journalists, people seeking government business — anyone who wants to keep tabs on how government bodies are doing their job.

“If you find something useful, please let us know. And if you have ideas about how to improve the service, tell us that, too.

Perhaps this service will ferret out corruption. Maybe it will help someone figure out what’s going on with long-delayed construction on the neighborhood park. Perhaps government officials will use it to learn how to operate more efficiently.”

This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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