The flood from TVA has lessened but not dried up completely.
I’m not referring to the controlled flooding at TVA’s numerous dams; rather, this is about the tsunami of responses I have received in the two weeks since the Times Free Press put the salaries of TVA’s 12,515 employees on our website.
Some threatened me and wished me bad luck, unhappiness and, well, let’s just say great personal misfortune. One irate woman ended her email this way: “Wishing you the worst.”
A few left me anonymous, expletive-laced voice mails.
The newspaper’s use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the public information is “sleazy and unethical,” according to one TVA employee.
Another said publishing the salaries is “disruptive to productivity and efficiency because of the inevitable emotional effects, including jealousy and resentment.”
A top TVA official, in a letter to employees, said TVA turned the information over to the newspaper because it “is important that we try to maintain the level of transparency ... that the public expects from us.”
Still, many employees are not happy about that transparency and do not feel their salaries should be public — even if it is public information.
“There is no reason for this intrusion,” one person wrote.
But amid the chorus of anger, I received emails from readers — including TVA workers — who think the newspaper should publish the salary list.
“As a TVA employee I applaud the effort ... keep up the good work,” one reader wrote.
Another reader commented: “TVA employees whose median income is $74,465 surely have the means to search for and read Title 5 of the U.S. Code, or their own site’s good summary at www.tva.gov/foia/. We’re coming up on 50 years of this law essential for us to be a democracy.”
A writer who described himself as a “proud TVA retiree” said this:
“I understand why some individuals are hesitant to have their salaries posted, but most are what I would call excuses for not wanting the information to go public. ... When I worked for TVA I would have appreciated if salaries would have been posted. I was proud of the work I had accomplished and thought I was paid fairly.”
Many TVA workers seem OK with our publishing their bosses’ salaries, they just don’t want theirs known.
“Publishing executive compensation is one thing, publishing the salaries of all workers is another,” one person wrote.
Another asked: “Do we really need to be transparent with a janitor’s pay? ... Why not just pick VP level and higher?”
A TVA engineers’ union also has said the release of employee salaries to the newspaper is “an unjust action” and that publishing it is a “brutal attack on federal workers and their unions.”
Many suggested that the newspaper publish the salaries of employees holding management positions or only the highest earners, or that we publish salary ranges without identifying individual workers.
Like many newspapers, the Times Free Press dedicates a section of its website to information that is publicly available, including the salaries of nearly 127,000 public employees in Tennessee and Georgia. It seems unfair to publish the names and salaries of other public workers but to leave some of that information off the TVA list.
This section of our website, Right2Know.com, has been up since 2010. It prompted some complaints from employees of other public agencies when their salaries first went up, too, but nothing like the ferocity of TVA workers’ responses.
One TVA worker said she was “disappointed and disgusted” that the newspaper would put the salaries online.
“Publicizing salary information that should be private serves no productive purpose,” she wrote. “Thanks to you and your paper the TVA workplace atmosphere will be negatively impacted.”
I hope any negativity won’t last long.
A woman whose salary was listed on the paper’s website because she worked in a local public sector job made this comment about the furor at TVA: “It creates hostility at first but when the dust settles, it might be good in the long run.”