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Ron Kaye: The public has a right to know

May 12, 2011|By Ron Kaye

Burbank city officials are wasting their time and the public’s money pleading the 5th Amendment and remaining silent about which workers split the $1 million in bonuses shelled out last year.

At a time when the scandals in Bell and other cities have shaken the public’s confidence and the cost of government salaries, benefits and pensions are breaking the bank, Burbank is playing a losing hand — unless, of course, it has good reason to hide how much taxpayer money was paid out and to whom in the form of bonuses.

The city cannot win this fight in the court of public opinion, and has next to no chance of winning in the court of law with its feeble argument that bonus babies will be embarrassed by their colleagues and the public knowing they got merit pay for their outstanding public service.


If they are doing such great jobs — and not beneficiaries of a system of favoritism and nepotism, as many have suspected for a long time — they should be wearing badges of honor so citizens could express their heartfelt gratitude and co-workers could be inspired to greater achievement.

The issue is simple: the Burbank Leader, invoking the California Public Records Act and a landmark 2007 California Supreme Court ruling, asked to see per-employee records of the $1 million in bonus payments in the belief they might shed light one way or another on the question of favoritism and nepotism in City Hall.

The city refused, saying they have posted every employee’s total pay, the amount set aside for merit pay, the number of employees getting the bonuses and the ground rules for determining who gets the bonus money.

But who got the bonuses and how much is a matter of secrecy, and disclosure would “create embarrassment, morale disruptions and personal dissention in the workplace,” the city argued in court documents in response to the newspaper filing a lawsuit for the information.

It’s a matter of protecting the privacy rights of the outstanding workers, Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott claims, and revealing who they are “would be tantamount to releasing the employee’s performance evaluation.”

That’s quite a stretch in logic, a subject Scott seems to know a lot about since she asserts it is “specious and illogical” for the Leader to believe knowing who the bonus babies are might help shed light on the favoritism and nepotism question.

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