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By Tristan 

Lawsuit filed to get salaries of state employees


HELENA (AP) — A Bozeman nonprofit group has filed a lawsuit to find out additional information about the salaries and compensation for all 13,000 Montana governmental employees.

The Montana Policy Institute, a Bozeman-based think tank that advocates government transparency, in its lawsuit filed last week in District Court in Helena contends that the state Department of Administration did not provide it with the workers' actual compensation, including bonuses and overtime.

"We want to know what each state employee made, with bonus and OT (overtime) — the W-2 number," said the institute's president, Carl Graham. "We started in 2010 and wanted the previous years. Now we want the most up-to-date numbers."

Lee Newspapers of Montana reports that Administration Deputy Director Sheryl Olson declined to comment because the agency hadn't been served with the lawsuit yet.

However, she wrote in an email in answer to a similar request last fall that the agency had provided extensive information to the Montana Policy Institute about the state's 13,000 employees.

"We are committed to fulfilling the request of every individual and organization seeking information about state government," she wrote. "However, your request exceeds our capacity. We do not plan to revisit this issue."

She said that, "While Montana's right-to-know laws require state agencies to provide the public with existing information, they do not require state agencies to reprogram existing information to satisfy each and every public records request."

She noted that the additional information requested by the Montana Policy Institute would require reprogramming 28,000 pages of information.

"As we completed our analysis of producing this report, we have concluded that we will not provide custom reports to the public," Olsen said.

Graham said the Department of Administration will provide the hourly wage of a state employee or a spreadsheet showing the hourly wage of each state employee. But he said the state won't provide a list that includes overtime, other salary, bonus pay, buyouts or early retirement. He said the state also won't say whether an employee is a full- or part-time worker.

"We think the taxpayers should know what they're paying their employees," he said. "They're the owners. They're the ones paying the bills."

He said Montana open-document laws haven't caught up with newer technology.

"They were written in the 1980s when fax machines were cutting edge," Graham said. "There's no teeth. You can get stonewalled very easily."


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