In a political and judicial climate where secretiveness and obfuscation seem to be the order of the day, it's nice to see a score for sunshine and openness.
The salaries of government employees in California, including police officers, are a public record and must be available upon request to "ensure transparency," the state Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Monday.
"Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy," Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in a 30-page opinion, ending a lawsuit the Contra Costa Times filed more than three years ago against the city of Oakland.
Justices found that government employees should not have an expectation of privacy about their gross salaries even if disclosure of the information "may cause discomfort or embarrassment."
The justices wrote that police salaries must also be made public except in narrow circumstances "where an officer's anonymity is essential to his or her safety," the decision states. The justices affirmed that police cannot use broad claims of officer safety to make blanket denials of salary information.
The ruling overturns a 2003 appellate court decision involving five cities in San Mateo County where employee unions blocked the release of salaries to the Palo Alto Daily News.
"Monday's court ruling put Priceless in its rightful place. It's a great win for the First Amendment," Keane said.