Transparency, New Jersey style


For most of these it sounds more like a product of limited budgets and antiquated IT systems rather than some sort of willful opposition.


I’d like to reimburse boing boing for the cost of this post. What’s the mailing address? I couldn’t find it in the phone book. How much do I send - one dollar? Do you accept travelers checks?


Especially if you’re talking about school systems.

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I’m with GlyphGryph. Mostly ineptitude & not necessarily nefarious/corruption. A better ironical title might be “Responsiveness, NJ Style”. Local gov is typically on the trailing edge of technology & the perennial local gov agency service motto seems to be: 'twas ever thus.

Still, the data-advocate spokesperson has an excellent point: “a culture needs to change” among the county’s public agencies. “They think it’s their data, not our data,” Solomon said.

People should really care more about the salaries of the people buying their politicians. Seriously. Is there some waste in government? Of course. Are there some employees that are overpaid? No doubt. Is it the majority of them? Simply, no. And if you look up the salary of a local teacher, cop, firefighter, public administrator, and they make more than you then maybe you should go in and demand a raise. Or better yet, organize and get some power to actually get the pay and benefits you feel you deserve for your work. If those people in public positions got paid half of what they do now, that would only mean the private sector would pay less. Does this school system have a policy that all information requests be distributed by disc? They may.


B-b-but that’s socialism! Real patriots are powerless… or something…


When I first started working at my current school, because I had been assigned to teach my class in a corner of the library and the librarian wasn’t willing to share shelf space, I needed to buy a bunch of plastic storage containers for my materials. They had to be a certain kind, all matching, so they would look nice in the library. The accounts person asked me to

  1. go to Walmart, get the names/SKUs and prices of the containers
  2. fill out a triplicate purchase order (white/pink/yellow copies) with their prices, SKU etc. and submit it to the principal at that time
  3. wait until the P.O. was signed, and then return to Walmart to purchase the containers with my own funds,
  4. with the tax-free form so that Walmart wouldn’t charge the school tax
  5. bring back and submit the receipt with part of the original P.O, and wait.

At the time, I thought I was undergoing a form of new-teacher hazing. It turns out that this is just how they do things.

If I want to purchase something for my classroom - let’s say, a book - first I find the used book for sale on Amazon because obviously my budget is tiny (about $1.30 per student for the year, responsible for approximately 200 elementary-aged students per year, on a once a week basis). Then I’m required to fill out and submit a triplicate form to my principal, stating the name and postal address of the vendor (Amazon), the price of the item, the shipping cost of the item, my department’s number, and my signature at the bottom of the form. If I’m lucky, the principal signs it within a week and sends it on to the accounts department. At this point in the process, the accounts person emails me and asks me to email her the url where she can see the name of the specific Amazon seller holding this used book. When I’ve thought ahead and written the seller’s name or even the specific item url right on the P.O. form, she still emails me and asks me to email it to her. So I do - from my computer at home, because I don’t have access to a computer at school apart from my personal phone. That’s fine with me, because the school computers run on hamster-wheels and nobody’s feeding the hamsters.

If I’m lucky, about 2-4 weeks later, in the front foyer I’ll find an unopened box with my name on it, with the yellow copy of the triplicate form taped to the box. If what’s in the box is what I expect to be in the box, I sign the yellow form and give it to the secretary, happy to have a new used book that might still be relevant to whatever topic I’m teaching this month. If it’s not the book I wanted, I give the whole package back to the secretary and try again from the start of the process - unless it’s after November, at which point the budget has been frozen and the funds are no longer accessible.

If I want to use any of my materials budget to buy a book, a whiteboard, whatever - this is what I have to do every time. A separate P.O. form is required for each vendor.

Oh, also, I’ve had my salary posted in the local newspaper. I discovered I was making more per hour than the librarian, who was still at close to ten dollars an hour even though by that time she had already put in more than twenty years. It was less satisfying than you might expect.


How much do you make a year, Cory? You can burn it on a CD for me, I don’t mind.

Excel spreadsheets on CDs? Amateurs.
Individual pages of tax forms scanned and converted to TIFF images on DVD…


They’re probably mailing CDs because any halfway with-it school district has strict rules against emailing large excel files full of sensitive information. I know mine does.

Asking for a dollar is just kind of pointless though.

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The natural balancing act with collective bargaining is that the union doesn’t want to kill off the company. That, if nothing else, will always limit how zealous a union is in extracting higher wages. The UAW can’t demand and won’t demand more than what Ford can give them. If they push it too hard, they will kill off the company and then they are truly screwed. It puts a check on the demands, which is a good thing.

Public sector unions are an entirely different can of worms. They can’t murder their host. They can sap the state of resources to be sure, but it just leads to ever degrading services. We tend to respond to degrading services by throwing more money at it. My local police department pleads for more money… all the while there is a law that makes it so that police have to direct traffic at road construction for overtime pay. Gee, I wonder where the money is going.

Public sector jobs truly are different, and they do need oversight. Step one to getting a little oversight is knowing who the hell is getting paid what.


My better half also works as a teacher. When she needs new materials, she talks to the principal about whether the cost is ok. She then goes out, buys the damn things, and hands in the receipt. Come next payday, she’s reimbursed.

The books are covered by the state, and every school gets to decide what exact book they use for the year. This year, they went for the science books with additional online courses, because the state also makes sure every student gets a laptop to work on. (math requires a program developed by some math think tank. It makes a lot of things easier for the kids to grasp). All this, and the kids are still useless! But now I’m rambling. Man, I love socialism.


Local newspapers love to publish the salaries of public sector workers (most of whom are secretaries and clerks, not senators) and claim it is for “transparency” rather than because they know their readers are nosy and want to know what the teacher across the street makes. I’m all for publishing public sector salaries by position - here’s what a clerk in the Mayor’s office earns, there’s what a sociology professor at the nearby university earns - but the readers don’t need to know what individuals in non-executive positions earn by name, and it is demeaning for people who are at the bottom of the pay scale.

I hope the school district was doing this as a protest against this legal-but-creepy intrusion on the private lives of its employees.


Except it’s not sensitive information. That’s why they call it the Open Public Records Act.


I appreciate that, but it does not matter. I’ve seen people get disciplined for mishandling precisely this information, even though it was published on the local paper’s website.

This is my town! What you gotta know about Hudson County and Jersey City is it’s run by an old, old political machine. Many of these jobs are the lubrication of its gears. Once a person is a “Made Man” in the Hudson County Democratic Organization, they’re in for life. You can drunkenly piss on people off a balcony at a Dead cover band show, as a JC Councilman did, and still get an appointed county position from which to launch your comeback. Or you can have 2 or 3 simultaneous government jobs, sometimes more than one of them full time, like the guy who was a supervisor at the Parking Authority AND a full time high school teacher. And a classic is being both a city councilman (part time job) and a County employee, with inherent conflicts of interest. Nepotism is rampant, like the Councilman who in addition to his own 3 gov’t jobs got his utterly unaccomplished daughter appointed Chairperson of the Sewer Authority for a city of 250k.

One of the goals of this system is to keep continuously on the public payroll to keep your public pension piling up. Just this past week a former JC school district superintendent died, he was taking in $200k in pension for running a system notorious for bloat, failure and a 2/3 graduation rate. After a while you get the feeling all these systems exists solely for the benefit of the employees not the residents of the city. This is why dragging data out of the system’s clutches is so important.

And we’re not talking about a small town. It’s an artifact of this corrupt and parochial history that Hudson County never consolidated into one city as many cities around the country did. Had it done so, it would be both larger in pop. and denser than Denver, Boston, Portland, and many other “name” cities in the US.


I never said public salaries shouldn’t be public knowledge. ALL jobs need oversight, not just public. But you make a few statements that are based on ignorance and/or bias:

  1. Unions kill of companies. Lie. No union, public or private, gets to dictate the terms of a contract. That’s why they call it a “bargaining table”. If they can’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator is called in to settle things. If no one will do the work for what the company offers, then the company either needs to share more of the profit, rethink their product if they can’t make enough profit to pay all parties (themselves, shareholders, workers), or find a new product. The difference is that with a public sector union you always have people on the other side of the bargaining table using “do you really think the public thinks you are worth that raise you are asking for?” as a bargaining tactic. Consumers have no idea what Ford pays their employees, nor are they ever asked if it’s appropriate.

  2. They can’t murder their host. Bullshit. Cities can and do go broke. Their response is to lay off people until they can afford to make payroll again. One aspect of unions is that you don’t ask for so much that anyone gets laid off. Because the current members interests outweigh the interests of just those who wouldn’t be laid off. I am a union firefighter, and have more than once given back pay to save the budget. And not just to save jobs. The chief came to our union and said that due to capital costs, like a station needing a new roof, we were low on reserves, so he was asking for us to give up 2%. We did. That is 2% that we’ll never get back, factored over careers averaging 20-30 years. That represented tens of thousands of dollars per person.

  3. police have to direct traffic at road construction for overtime pay. Depends. If that is a city construction project, who is going to get sued if there is an accident because of traffic around the construction? The city. So it is in their interest to pay them to do that. Why a cop? Depending on the city it could be because of a powerful police union, it could be because the local drivers have decided the person with in the yellow vest with the sign is not enough authority to actually listen to, it could be liability. BUT if that project is a private project (telecom pulling cable in the street, adding a water/sewer connection for a business etc.) that cop’s overtime is being paid by the private customer who is having that work done, so don’t assume you’re paying that cop’s OT.

Public salaries have always been available to the public, and always should be. I have worked both union and non-union jobs, and also been self employed. I think people who make a big secret of how much they make are stupid. It only benefits the employer and maybe a few of their highest paid employees. The whole “it’s a secret” is just employers leveraging against people’s good nature. i.e. they are afraid they’ll ask too much. When everyone knows what a job pays then that lever is gone.

And this sort of thing is exactly why we never even looked at JC. 'burbs, man, that’s where it’s at.

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