Public Hospital = Public Salaries

Charles Davis
July 3, 2008 — 1,556 views  
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An Iowa hospital has lost its fight to keep secret the salaries of its employees.

District Judge Michael Mullins ordered the Davis County Hospital in Bloomfield to turn over payroll records that Bloomfield resident Kenneth Turner requested last year. Hospital officials declined to comment Monday.

Last June, the county-owned hospital denied Turner's request to learn the salaries of its employees. The Des Moines Register then sought access to some of the same information.

In response, the hospital sued Turner and the newspaper, seeking a court injunction that would allow the hospital to keep secret employee salaries and bonuses.

The newspaper then dropped its request for the records. Turner hired a lawyer and pursued the matter.

Under Iowa's open-records law, the wages of government employees are considered public information. A separate law dealing with county hospitals says the salaries "of all employees paid in whole or in part from a tax levy shall be a public record and open to inspection."But Iowa law also says a government agency can keep secret such information by proving to a court that disclosure is not in the public interest and would "substantially and irreparably injure any person or persons."

The hospital contended in court that disclosure of its salaries would cause embarrassment and inconvenience, discourage medical professionals from working in Bloomfield and make it harder to retain employees.

Charles Davis

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Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.