Editorials

Editorial: Why taxpayers have a right to know how much city employees make

The Star recently published a searchable database of salaries for people who work for the City of Kansas City, excluding the police department. The database is an important public service, and suggests Kansas City should work harder to control overtime costs.
The Star recently published a searchable database of salaries for people who work for the City of Kansas City, excluding the police department. The database is an important public service, and suggests Kansas City should work harder to control overtime costs. File photo

The Star recently published an invaluable online database of the salaries for more than 4,300 people employed by the City of Kansas City.

The list includes firefighters, water department workers, department directors, inspectors, grass cutters, the works. It does not include police officers — as you may know, the city doesn’t control its own police department. The state of Missouri does that.

The database, which is searchable and sortable, is an essential resource. Citizens and City Hall itself can use the information to learn important facts about Kansas City and how tax money is spent.

The amount of overtime the city pays, for example, is staggering. The top earner in the city isn’t City Manager Troy Schulte or Mayor Sly James — it’s John Morrow, a firefighter and paramedic who earned $238,439 in gross wages last year.

In fact, of the top six earners on the city’s payroll, three work in the fire and emergency rescue service.

Overtime appears to be the reason. Morrow’s base salary, the database shows, is just $75,648, a fraction of the amount taxpayers actually paid for his services.

In all, the Fire Department paid more than $95 million in salaries last year, $13.2 million above base wages. That’s a lot of O.T.

We don’t begrudge any worker for collecting the pay he or she is owed, including overtime. But the database suggests excessive and unacceptable overtime costs in the fire service — a result of poor scheduling and mismanagement.

It also reflects the unique structure of a firefighter’s schedule, which involves 24-hour shifts.

But money isn’t the only concern. Paramedics and firefighters have critical jobs requiring great skill and focus. Excessive overtime may tax those workers’ stamina.

The city and the Fire Department must address this issue as soon as possible.

Overtime isn’t limited to firefighters, though. A supervisor in the city’s Water Department earned $133,430 on a base salary of $61,668, and overtime appears to be the culprit. Another supervisor earned $55,864 above the base salary, roughly $4,655 a month.

Proper scheduling and time management are critical in the Water Department. Kansas Citians are more angry about excessive water bills than almost anything else, and the utility has a responsibility to make sure customers’ payments are spent efficiently.

The database shows 287 workers earned gross wages above $100,000 last year, roughly 6.5 percent of the city’s non-police workforce.

After the story was published, the newspaper heard from some city workers. They were upset their names and salary figures were available online.

But public employees’ salaries are public information. No one leaked the salary figures to The Star — we obtained them after using a Sunshine Law request. Similar efforts are underway for other public institutions, including the Kansas City Police Department.

Taxpayers have an absolute right to know how their money is spent. Publishing salary information was a public service, and we’ll do it again.

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