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Seward takes step toward more transparency

Seward City Council enacted an ordinance that allows public access to payroll information through public records request.

The ordinance was unanimously approved at Monday night’s meeting and will allow interested members of the public to submit a request for payroll history for city employees.

“What this code change will not do is list all city employee income online … This is an attempt to bring our city code closer in line to what state law is,” said Councilmember Suzi Towsley, who introduced the introduced the ordinance. “… What this change will do is make it possible for the public, taxpayers and rate payers to use our (public records request) system to submit requests for individual employees’ payroll records. It will bring Seward into closer alignment with state law and it will bring a tool back to rate payers and citizens to engage and hold accountable our appointed officials.”

Before the ordinance, payroll records were exempted from public record requests. In comparison, the State of Alaska does not exempt payroll.

“Council bringing Seward City Code into alignment with state law, while practicing openness by allowing access to payroll/salary database information for public officials, helps to establish and foster better trust between citizens and the City of Seward,” according to Towsley’s letter introducing the ordinance.

Public comment at Monday’s meeting was overwhelmingly supportive of the ordinance.

“The majority of the citizens of Seward want transparency and the majority of the people of Seward want fair treatment,” said Ristine Casagrande. “And I think that making payroll public knowledge is a good step.”