The Ashland Budget Committee was right to direct the city's new finance director to provide a detailed breakdown of staff salaries, benefits and overtime, but it shouldn't have come to that.

Public employee compensation is public record. Period. That is not open to debate, and a public body should not have to vote to order a public official to release a public record. What if the committee had voted down the motion? The Budget Committee and the City Council do not have the power to change public records law.

It was concerning when Interim Finance Director Bev Adams said she felt it was "highly inappropriate" to provide city employees' salaries to Budget Committee members. It was even more troubling when newly hired Finance Director Mark Welch was asked if citizens have the right to request public records.

"I believe in transparency," Welch replied, then added, "If you request this information, why do you want it?"

Perhaps Welch, whose professional experience came in other states, is unfamiliar with Oregon law.

The Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual says, "Generally, the identity, motive and need of the person requesting access to public records are irrelevant. Interested persons, news media representatives, business people seeking access for personal gain, busybodies on fishing expeditions, persons seeking to embarrass government agencies, and scientific researchers all stand on an equal footing."

No one is asking for public employees' addresses or private phone numbers. But how much the public pays them is public information.