Saturday, September 25, 2004

Pay of public workers is public, judge says

The public has an overriding interest in knowing the salaries of public employees, a judge ruled Friday (Sept. 24) in a lawsuit filed by the Contra Costa Times against the city of Oakland, which refused to release the salaries of workers who make more than $100,000. The ruling appears to contradict a similar case, Priceless v. Teamsters, on the Peninsula in which the Palo Alto Daily News (owned by Priceless LLC) was unable to obtain the salaries of public workers in five San Mateo County cities. In that case, a San Mateo County Superior Court Judge, Rosemary Pfeiffer, ruled that the privacy interests of the unionized workers outweighed the public's right to know. In Friday's ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick went the opposite direction, saying salary data "is needed to scrutinize public budgets to (make sure) taxpayers' limited resources are well spent." Undoubtably the ruling will be appealed.

Pay is public, judge says

By Thomas Peele
CONTRA COSTA TIMES

OAKLAND - The public possesses an overriding interest in knowing the salaries of public employees, a judge said Friday afternoon, indicating he would order Oakland to release employee pay data to the Times that the city has refused to disclose.

"My feeling is the (newspaper's) petition should be granted," Alameda Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick said at the start of a 70-minute hearing. Salaries, he said, "are a matter of public interest." The Times "has established the manner in which the data has been used in California and elsewhere" in matters of "strong public interest."

Salary data, the judge said, "is needed to scrutinize public budgets to (make sure) taxpayers' limited resources are well spent."

Attorneys for Oakland and two employee unions argued that the exact pay of employees is a matter of confidentiality and personal privacy that the state constitution protects. That journalists might find wrongdoing through far-ranging requests for salaries is too speculative to trump privacy, they argued.

"They could accomplish what they want to accomplish with just the numbers," said Duane Reno, an attorney for the International Federation of Professional Engineers Local 21, which represents the city's white-collar employees.

Times attorney Karl Olson told Brick that reporters need the data to unearth corruption and favoritism. "They want us to uncover government wrongdoing without giving us the information to do so," he said.

The Times sued Oakland in July after the city refused to release data for employees it paid in excess of $100,000 in 2003, an apparent violation of the state Public Records Act and of Oakland's ordinance requiring disclosure of such information. The city had released names with salaries for at least the past eight years.

"Times change," said Julia Bond, an attorney representing the city. She argued that a state appellate court decision last year upheld employees' privacy rights over salary data.

Brick said his only concern was over the salaries of police officers. State law blocking access to police personnel files extends to any other government file where data might be maintained, said Oakland Police Officers Association attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson.

"These are all parts of the file of the employee's record," Wilkinson said of officers' payroll records that other city departments maintain. "Any file maintained under a (police officer's) name is confidential," she said.

Olson said it is clear the law does not extend to financial data the city may use for payroll processing and budget planning. "You can't shield someone simply by putting something in a personnel file," he said. Brick called the issue "highly technical" and said he would study case law on it.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court in Southern California ruled that the San Diego County Civil Service Commission had to release information on a fired deputy sheriff because the commission was not his employer and the information was kept outside the deputy's personnel file. The deputy's lawyers argued the information, including the officer's name, was confidential.

The Times' case against Oakland has drawn statewide interest. The Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and the California Newspaper Publishers Association filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Times.

State Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, said last month he would introduce a bill in December to ensure that no government employee salary information is withheld from public disclosure.

On Friday, attorney Duane Reno told Brick that if newspapers obtained city pay records they might sell them to banks or advertisers. That would invite unwanted solicitations from investment counselors or stockbrokers, he said.

Olson noted that Oakland has released salary data in past years and that neither the city nor the unions could cite any instances in which employees were approached in such a matter or in any way harassed.

"The people who are going to take advantage of it in a manipulative sense are already doing it," Brick said.

While Reno and Wilkinson argued that the Times' request for information was too broad, Olson countered that the newspaper asked only for names and salaries of about 10 percent of the roughly 5,400-member city work force.

"We are talking about discriminate disclosure," Olson said of employees paid in excess of $100,000. Brick said he would issue a written decision within 90 days.



(c) 2004 ContraCostaTimes.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 10, 2004

ANG Newspapers accused of 'Best of' contest fraud; Ex-advertising director claims he uncovered 'hoax'

Sept. 10, 2004


By the Pleasanton Weekly

A former advertising director has filed a lawsuit against ANG Newspapers, publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald and other newspapers, and two of its former executives claiming that their "Best of" awards competition "was for years a massive hoax."

In his complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, David Marin states that he was fired in March 2003, allegedly for reasons not related to the "Best of" contest, but less than a year after he was promoted to Director of Advertising at ANG and uncovered the deception.

The lawsuit, filed by Attorney David Hosilyk of the Half Moon Bay law firm of Fine, Boggs, Cope and Perkins, names as defendants ANG Newspapers, Michael Lynch and Colleen Brewer. Lynch was Executive Vice President of Advertising and Marketing for ANG Newspapers, and Brewer was the company's advertising executive responsible for handling the "Best of" contest. Neither Lynch nor Brewer is now employed by ANG.

Marin states that before he took over as Advertising Director, "the readers, the public and advertisers were being defrauded."

"The true winner of the poll would not necessarily be awarded the 'Best of' designation, but rather the business that spent the most, or was likely to spend the most on advertising was given the award instead," the lawsuit states. "This resulted in false advertising and a fraud being perpetrated on advertisers, readers and the general public for the personal financial gain of Brewer and the financial gain of the other defendants."

Marin states in the complaint that ANG Newspapers "defrauded the general public, readers (consumers and subscribers) and advertisers by rigging the results of the 'Best of' poll" and that its action "constitutes unfair and/or fraudulent business practices."

The lawsuit also claims that when Marin became Advertising Director, "he ended this fraud upon the public, insisting that his department would run an honest 'Best of' contest." However, Marin believed that his repudiation of Brewer's past practices caused her to feel animosity toward him and was a motivating factor in his termination the following year.

Marin also claimed that Lynch, as well as ANG and its managing agents, was aware of the fraud and "condoned it and ratified it."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering ANG Newspapers "to cease engaging in unfair and/or deceptive business practices and should be ordered to publish retractions and announcements of its fraud and to publish the true winners of the 'Best of' contests."

John Schueler, ANG's president and publisher, said there is no basis for Marin's suit and his comments are without merit.

"We've been doing 'Best of' for quite a number of years," Schueler said. "It's a fair and unique program and his (Marin's) allegations that winners are picked solely because they're advertisers does not appear to be true at all. The documentation I've seen show that many of the votes that came in were counted by a third party and that there were winners who were not advertisers."

(c) 2004, Embarcadero Publishing Co.

Suit: ANG's 'Best of' contest is rigged

A former advertising director has filed a lawsuit against ANG Newspapers, publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald and other newspapers, and two of its former executives claiming that their "Best of" awards competition "was for years a massive hoax," the Pleasanton Weekly reports. In his complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, David Marin states that he was fired in March 2003, allegedly for reasons not related to the "Best of" contest, but less than a year after he was promoted to Director of Advertising at ANG and uncovered the deception.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

September 2004 Press Club board minutes

At the San Mateo Daily News

Meeting commenced at 6:20 p.m.

Directors present: Micki Carter, John Kane, Jack Russell, and Ed Remitz. Also present: Darryl Compton, executive director. Directors absent: Aimee Lewis, Jon Mays, Justin Nyberg, Dave Price and Bill Workman.

Directors voted 4-0 to approve previous meeting's minutes.

Treasurer's Report:
Compton reported the treasury is solvent.

Old Business:

Compton reported that the PPC website has been enhanced with additional journalism links.

Compton reported that a series of technical changes to PPC bylaws have been prepared for review and approval by the membership during a board meeting in November. The changes include moving the annual meeting from September to January and directing the executive director to process membership applications.

New Business:

Directors decided a board meeting and Christmas party will be held Dec. 8. Details for the party are to be arranged.

Carter noted that congratulations are in order for two directors -- Aimee Lewis is expecting a baby in January and Jon Mays is planning to marry. The directors joined in congratulating both.

The meeting adjourned at 7 p.m.

Minutes submitted by director Ed Remitz.

Saturday, September 4, 2004

Should reporters make political donations?

"SPJ Salon: Giving to the Pols," with San Francisco Chronicle readers' representative Dick Rogers, KCBS-AM director of news and programming Ed Cavagnaro, and San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond. Moderated by Grade the News project director John McManus.

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2004
6-8 p.m.; program starts promptly at 6:45 p.m.
London Wine Bar
415 Sansome Str. (between Sacramento and Clay), San Francisco

Admission is free and the bar is non-hosted. We'll have the lower level of the London Wine Bar to ourselves. Before the discussion begins, there will be time for socializing.