A Road Less Traveled

untitledThe lady calling the Jimplecute last week was obviously incensed. “Neither I, nor any of my family, will ever buy another copy of the Jimplecute,” she told us.

The story we ran about what Jefferson ISD, City of Jefferson and Marion County paid their employees had put a bug under the woman’s bonnet.

She worked for the city and did not want others to know what she made. She felt her privacy had been violated with the posting on Jimplecute1848.com of her salary along with every other public employee in the county.

While I realize what a person earns is a more sensitive subject for some rather than others, the caller failed to recognize three important points. Municipal payroll records are open books. “Salaries of public employees are public record, and the public is entitled to know that information,” Jimplecute Publisher Mica Wilhite commented in the story last week.

Many states, including California, Indiana, New York, Georgia and Michigan, have websites where you can check out the salaries of state employees and in some cases, all public employees. I hate to be the one to tell you, lady, but your salary is no big secret.

It should be noted, all three government entities provided the salary information in response to Freedom of Information requests from the Jimplecute, as the law requires them to do. As Wilhite noted last week, this is an exercise in open government.

We are letting the people of Marion County know what they are entitled to know under the law. One misconception that this story should have destroyed is that public employees in Marion County are overpaid.

The record clearly shows most employees of the city, schools and county make less than people doing the same job in other communities our size. Although the state legislature does appear to be moving toward some sort of teacher pay raise, beginning teachers who now make the state minimum of $30,000 will still be behind.

Certainly, experienced teachers can earn $40,000 or $50,000, but that is still less than what a teacher with the same experience makes elsewhere. How much are you willing to pay someone to take a bullet for you? Or better, what do you have to be paid to drive the streets with a target on your chest?

Does $2,500 per month sound about right? It must be, because that’s what Marion County pays starting police officers and deputies. Even the top pay of about $38,000 doesn’t sound like much when one considers what the job entails.

When you pry the lid off the numbers, you can see even the county judge and the superintendent make less than the median income for their jobs in counties our size. A final consideration in our decision to publish this information is our commitment to bring you the Jimplecute.

More than 1,800 newspapers have ceased publication in the United States since 2004. While most fingers point at the internet and the cost of producing a newspaper, the press is actually a prisoner of a self-image rooted in the past.

Newspapers in the 19th century invented the concept of “mass media” with the penny press. Content was developed to appeal to the largest possible audience. In the 21st century, this lowest common denominator thinking, however, has limited appeal to a significant section of the community who require more than routine government reports and a news cycle that varies little from year to year.

Coincidentally, they often have the most disposable income. While you have seen many newspapers go to smaller pages, more photos and shorter stories, the Jimplecute under the leadership of Publisher Wilhite has returned to larger pages with stories that go more in depth on topics of importance to the community.

The Jimplecute will continue to be a newspaper with crime news, obituaries, photos of cute children and sports, but we think stories like public salaries, candidates for city council and school board, the number of sex offenders in Marion County and local internet availability are needed too.

We also provide locally written stories on developments in the current legislative session, as well as reports by the Texas Tribune. Nationally-known columnists add depth and diversity to our news package.

I certainly hope our caller does buy a Jimplecute some time in the future, but more importantly, I hope you recognize the value the Jimplecute delivers and the reasons why the public employee salary story was important.



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