The Wyoming Department of Education has extra time to deal with a large public records request sent at the end of November.
Rock Springs Republican Sen. Tom James asked all state government departments for information on their employees, specifically names, titles and salaries. The recently elected politician told the Casper Star-Tribune that it was to help him understand how taxpayer money is spent ahead of his first legislative budget session.
The original deadline for fulfilling the request was Dec. 27, but state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow told James in an email that she needed an extension due to employee privacy concerns. She said some employees could be put in danger if their names and places of employment were provided, for instance if they had a court-issued protective order.
“Since these employees are hired and managed by locally elected school boards and they are not State of Wyoming employees,” she wrote, “we need more information from districts and a process for withholding those names from our production.”
James had taken issue with the request for an extension, saying Balow’s email, which she sent Dec. 20, was too close to the deadline. He told her he was denying her request and that he expected the records to be turned over by last Friday.
However, he relented and granted the Education Department an extension to Jan. 15. He emailed the Jackson Hole Daily late Friday to say that he had given the agency an extension, but has not answered emails and phone calls asking for further information.
Public agencies like the Education Department and local school districts are required by state law to comply with such requests. School districts publish job title and salary information at the beginning of each year, but employee names are available only upon request.
In a 2011 Wyoming Supreme Court decision on a public records lawsuit filed by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle against Laramie County School District No. 1, justices found that public employees trade some rights to privacy for their taxpayer-funded positions.
“Any person who makes a proper request may learn the compensation paid to a public employee, regardless of the level at which he toils for a governmental entity,” the court wrote.
Ahead of the original Dec. 27 deadline, Teton County School District No. 1 information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said the district was prepared to provide the records James asked for, with one employee’s name withheld.