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Bonuses retain the best civic employees

February 11, 2011

I challenge whether merit bonuses can be called a giveaway of Burbank taxpayer dollars. In either the private or public sector, bonus incentives can be an integral part of hiring and retaining staff.

I also question if detailed disclosure is in Burbank’s best interest as an employer (“Newspaper files suit against Burbank for public records,” Jan. 30).

The term “Burbank University” is used by members of the Burbank Management Assn. to refer to difficulties in retaining staff. Burbank hires the best and the brightest seeking a career in local government, trains them exceptionally well and ends up losing them to higher paying neighboring cities.

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Burbank’s historical competitive employment advantage as a superior place to live and work has lost ground to income as housing prices, transportation and higher education costs have escalated.

I contend that merit bonuses may have a positive budget impact. As has been noted on occasion before the City Council by the management services director, upgrading one job category to retain a key member of the executive team can trigger increases in other categories. Increases in pay grades likely have longer term overall budget impacts than annual merit bonuses.

If, in the face of budget cutbacks, city services have to be delivered more efficiently by a smaller staff, then merit bonuses have the potential to save more than they cost.

I regard Burbank as a well managed city run by highly capable employees for a long time. I am confident that merit bonuses have been studied at length by staff and elected officials and have been proven an effective strategy, especially for retaining key staff who have excelled at delivering city services.

As far as public disclosure of the specifics of merit bonuses, in my opinion it is an issue with possible local consequences in Burbank’s ability to retain key executives in the face of public sector competition. I would hope the court also takes that into consideration before ruling if detailed disclosure should be mandatory.

By limiting disclosure to total compensation, Burbank’s merit pay strategy and execution could be a beneficial weapon to keep the head hunters for surrounding cities from turning management staffing into a revolving door detrimental to the overall quality and cost of city services.

Bob Olson

Burbank

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