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Where were Burbank's attorneys?

September 18, 2011

After seeing the list of Burbank city employees who received merit bonuses, I have a question about 10 employees in the city attorney’s office who last year were awarded bonuses ranging from $3,500 to $6,500 for a total of $46,000.

Members of this group include one chief assistant city attorney, seven senior assistant city attorneys, one assistant city attorney and one deputy city attorney. These 10 employees all have law degrees, and according to their job specifications, must have membership in the State Bar of California.

My question is this: Why didn’t at least one of these attorneys persuade city officials to release bonus recipient names to the Burbank Leader rather than going to court when the newspaper said it would sue the city to obtain the names (“Judge sides with Leader in suit to obtain data on employee bonuses,” May 20)?

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These attorneys should have been aware of a 2007 California Supreme Court decision that would adversely affect the city. That year, the Contra Costa Times sued Oakland after the city refused to release to the paper the names of city employees earning $100,000 or more a year.

The court looked at whether the public interest in seeing how government spends tax dollars outweighed the assertions of privacy and concluded that the public’s interest was more important. Burbank staff attorneys weren’t aware of this ruling?

Lawyers working for the city needn’t be experts on estate planning, intellectual property or entertainment law, but shouldn’t they be knowledgeable on all court decisions affecting municipalities?

The legal staff’s apparent ignorance of that ruling cost Burbank taxpayers $39,218 when the city lost the case. Even worse than not being aware of the court’s ruling is to have known about it and still engage in the lawsuit. That smacks of tremendous hubris coupled with total disregard for taxpayer money.

Bonuses are supposed to be awarded for exemplary work, hence the name “merit bonus.” These 10 employees cost taxpayers thousands of dollars so they certainly didn’t earn their bonuses by doing meritorious work.

Once again, I am seeing dismal work performances rewarded with generous bonuses. The entire bonus program is a sham and needs to come to an end, not just for these 10 employees, but for all city employees.

Molly Shore

Burbank

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