Government Employee Benefits Records

Government Employee Benefits Records

Q: As a part of freedom of information act, government employees [names & amounts posted] receive their salaries and benefits which are sourced from funds that were generated from the tax base (tax-paying public).

I want to know names and amounts of financial benefits (social services/housing) that each person in Santa Clara County receives, as those are also sourced from funds that were generated from the tax base (tax-paying public).

Please advise if the is legally attainable public information…

A: Under the PRA, public records must be disclosed unless there is a specific exemption in law authorizing an agency to withhold them.  Grounds for withholding records can include privacy interests where those interests are clearly established, there is a legitimate threat to them from disclosure, and the public interest in protecting those interests clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosing the records at issue.

As you may know, the California Supreme Court recently emphasized the importance of public disclosure of how government employees are paid when it issued a decision making it clear that the names and salaries of public employees earning $ 100,000 or more per year are exempt from public disclosure under the California Public Records Act.  International Federation Of Professional And Technical Engineers, v. Superior Court Of Alameda County, 42 Cal. 4th 319 (2007).

It would seem that not all of the factors that would support disclosure of government employee salaries and benefits would support the disclosure of names and amounts of housing and other benefits that County residents receive, however.  In particular, the amount of social services benefits an individual receives might be seen to implicate personal privacy interests more than the amount of a government employee’s salary does.

Nevertheless, you could certainly request these records from the County and let it tell you whether or not it considers them to be exempt from disclosure and why.  If you believe that the County has not disclosed all of the records it must under the PRA, you could push for further disclosure and even sue to force the disclosure.  You might find the model letter at useful in drafting a request under the PRA for the information you seek.