This morning, The Lens launched a new service to enable anyone to look up the annual budgeted salary of any employee in the city of New Orleans’ payroll system. This covers almost 4,100 employees, both appointees and those part of the Civil Service system. The pay ranges from about $18,500 a year to about $236,000.

Users can search by name, department or position title, or any combination.

This is part of the Lens’ open-data initiative, called The Vault. We launched this project last month with a tool that allows anyone to search the full text of more than 5,500 contracts with the city of New Orleans.

Why has The Lens published these salaries?

These salaries, like everything else in The Vault, are public information. But they’re not that easy to find. In the case of city salaries, you would have to file a public-records request. In 2014, we think it should be easier to get public information. So we made it easier.

Isn’t this an invasion of privacy?

Like in other states, employees’ salaries are considered public information under the state’s public records law. We chose to include names in part because people may not know an employee’s position, but they do know her name.

We understand that some people may not want their pay to be publicized. No one will be able to Google an employee’s name and immediately see how much he makes. However, people will be able to find our tool through Google and search there.

Why didn’t you publish other salaries for other government employees?

The city is the largest single government employer in New Orleans, so we started there. We’re working on getting salaries from other public bodies, including the various charter school organizations in the area.

How is this different from similar efforts in the past?

We intend to update this information periodically — at least once a year.

How current is the information?

This was current as of May 3, 2014. We are working on getting a more updated version that will reflect changes since then.

What’s included? What’s not?

We’ve published the budgeted salaries for 4,079 full-time employees in the city’s payroll system. This includes some separate boards and commissions that are are paid through the city, such the New Orleans Aviation Board. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans runs its own payroll system, so it’s not included. Nor are any teachers, who are paid by their respective school systems.

We excluded part-time employees because city payroll records aren’t uniform, making it impossible to compare one employee to another.

The position name is based on the city’s Personnel Department records. In some cases (for instance, in the case of some mayoral appointees) employees may have different job titles.

What does the number represent?

The figure for each employee is the budgeted annual salary, not the actual amount paid in a given year. It doesn’t include overtime pay, but it may include longevity pay, temporary pay or special rates of pay.

For police and fire department employees, the figure includes a $6,000 supplement from the state, as well as money from specially designated portions of Orleans Parish property taxes.

What are the limitations of this information?

Two people with the same job may have different salaries, for instance because one has worked for the city longer or has a higher degree. Many of these differences are spelled out in the Civil Service pay plan.

Why do I have to take a marketing survey before I use the tool?

The Lens is a nonprofit newsroom, but we still have to pay our employees. We are using Google Consumer Surveys on some of our site to defray some of the cost of gathering and publishing this information.

How can I support efforts like this?

The Lens, New Orleans’ only nonprofit newsroom, is supported by readers like you. Become a member today.

Steve Myers

Steve Myers was editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter,...