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A Balcony View: A bonus is still a bonus

December 21, 2010|By Gary Huerta

In reading about Burbank's refusal to release information regarding bonuses received by city employees for the last 10 years, I was reminded of one of Shakespeare's most famous lines: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Yes. I do know that when this line was written, the word "protest" did not infer denial. Rather, it was in reference to offering so much information on a subject that one's own explanation becomes suspect.

That is exactly how I interpret the response by Juli C. Scott, chief assistant city attorney, to reporter Gretchen Meier's request seeking the release of information regarding employee bonuses over the last 10 years.

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In Scott's letter, she seems all too willing to overstate Burbank's payout guidelines by saying, "The city of Burbank does not provide bonuses. Rather, there is an established merit-pay-for-performance process that was created, approved and funded by the Burbank City Council a number of years ago." She further states that "given that the merit-pay awards are directly related to an employee's performance, we believe that disclosing the actual individual amounts would violate the privacy rights of individuals relating to their performance or lack thereof."

It sure seems like a lot of information regarding Burbank's policy. Especially when no one asked. It likewise shines a light directly on the Burbank City Council. Any reporter would follow that information up with a simple question like, "Why would the Burbank City Council feel the need to identify such a payout process a number of years ago? What loophole did it create?"

To advance Scott's rationale even further, let's take a look at the crux of Burbank's argument against releasing the bonus information: the difference between "bonus" and "pay-for-performance."

About.com defines a bonus as: compensation over and above the amount of pay specified as a base salary or hourly rate of pay.… Bonus pay that is specified by contract is used most frequently to reward executives.… Bonus pay is used by many organizations as a thank-you to employees or a team that achieves significant goals.

Because we are dealing with semantics, I'm inclined to wonder if members of the Burbank City Council considers themselves, along with other city employees, executives that deserve to be rewarded.

Allbusiness.com defines pay-for-performance as a salary scheme that involves accepting a lower base pay in return for bonuses predicated upon meeting production or other organizational goals.

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