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UPDATE: Taft reverses course, responds to previously rejected requests for salary info

Nonprofit Transparent California has filed a legal complaint against the city of Taft, Calif., alleging the city is unlawfully withholding public records about staff pay. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

UPDATE: A representative from Transparent California on Thursday informed Eyewitness News that the city of Taft reversed course and has delivered all the requested salary information the day after the story aired on Eyewitness News at 5 p.m.

"They were able to create a list documenting the names alongside (the State Controller's) report day after your story aired," said Robert Fellner, the organization's director of research, in an email. "Which contradicts their attorney's response about thousands of documents and hundreds of hours."

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- The operator of a government transparency website has filed a legal complaint against the city of Taft in Kern County Superior Court, alleging the city is illegally dodging public record requests pertaining to staff pay.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute -- self-described as a nonpartisan, free-market think tank -- operates multiple websites that house public pay data for staff at all levels of local and state government. The complaint says transparentcalifornia.com houses information about 2.4 million public employees from 2,000 different agencies.

Research Director Robert Fellner said all Kern County agencies have complied with their annual request for a list of their employee's names and salaries except the city of Taft, which they say refused their request.

"If you have a payroll of nearly $10 million a year, it's a pretty tough sell you have no way of tracking the names of your employees and the wages they've made," Fellner said. "It's just ridiculous."

Eyewitness News reached out to the city clerk as well as the city attorney for comment on the allegations, but did not receive one. But Taft's mayor, Dave Noerr, provided the following statement.

"I became aware of this issue only today. Prior to that, this was being handled on a staff level. It is my opinion now, having read what I have, that this issue needs to be remediated to the mutual satisfaction of Transparent California and the city of Taft, without compromising any of the personal security rights of the individual employees. I truly believe this can be done without the trouble and expense of what I believe to be unnecessary litigation."

Taft's attorney denied the organization's requests on the basis that gathering the data would be difficult and time-intensive, according to emails Eyewitness News received from Transparent California.

"Unfortunately, you are requesting information that does not exist in the format or manner you are requesting," said Jason Epperson, the city's attorney in one of the emails.

Fellner insists that his organization doesn't care in what form the information arrives. He says other cities don't seem to struggle to produce the data.

"Over 2,000 California governments have attested that they can respond to our request in an effortless manner as a result of creating the State Controller's Report," he said.

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