This Cool New Tool Lets You Look Up the Salaries of City Workers

Open data advocates fought for years to make the information public.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

For years, open data advocates have been calling on Philadelphia to publish the salaries of city workers. Today, they finally prevailed: Mayor Jim Kenney announced this afternoon that the city had put the salaries of all 30,000 municipal employees (including elected officials) on OpenDataPhilly. The information will be updated every three months, according to the administration.

“This is a major win for Mayor Kenney,” says Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s former Chief Data Officer. “This says to me that he is fully committed to open data.”

Go take a look at the salary database. It’s pretty fascinating. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find in it: The top five highest-paid employees in city government are Medical Examiner Sam Gulino (annual salary: $260,730), Police Commissioner Richard Ross ($240,000), Deputy Medical Examiner Albert Chu ($231,505), Mayor Jim Kenney ($217,820) and Philadelphia International Airport CEO Rochelle Cameron ($215,000). The city also created a nifty data visualization that enables users to search for salaries by name, and to sort data according to different categories.

Headd argues that today’s announcement is a signal that Kenney is genuinely devoted to open data. He points out that this is one of the city’s most controversial data sets, and Kenney is releasing it after just three months in office. “For whatever reason, the previous administration simply did not want to release this,” says Headd, who worked in former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. “This is one of those data sets where people ask uncomfortable questions. … Maybe they didn’t want those questions.”

In 2013, when he was the city’s Chief Data Officer, Headd wrote in an official report that workers’ salaries should be released in order to “realize Mayor Nutter’s vision for open government.” But the Nutter administration didn’t budge. A year later, after he left city government, Headd wrote in an op-ed that “a city can’t be open unless it freely shares, in usable formats, data on how it is spending money, with whom and for how much.” Still, the city didn’t put out the data.

The data is so contentious that even gadfly Brett Mandel, a former City Controller candidate, removed salary information from his municipal budget app after facing criticism over it.

Today’s announcement could be seen as an attempt by Kenney to set himself apart from his predecessor — something he has done more than once since winning election last year.

Interestingly, Kenney unveiled this new data at the same time that some in the city’s tech community are questioning whether the mayor will be as dedicated to innovation and civic tech as his predecessor. That speculation intensified when Civic Tech Director Aaron Ogle left City Hall last month, and Chief Information Officer Charlie Brennan said he wasn’t sure if he’d be replaced.

“How this relates to the broader innovation agenda, I don’t really know,” says Headd. “That remains to be seen. But this says very clearly that the mayor supports open data. I don’t think there’s any question about that now.” 

This is definitely a step forward — by Philadelphia’s standards, at least. Cities like Baltimore, Chicago, New York and San Francisco have been publishing employees’ salaries for years now.

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