In their response to a lawsuit filed by the Burbank Leader to obtain the amount of bonuses paid to individual public employees, city attorneys argued in a legal filing that releasing the information was tantamount to revealing private performance evaluations that would erode workplace morale.
Burbank Senior Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott dismissed the arguments and legal precedent cited by Karlene W. Goller — an attorney for the Leader’s parent company, the Los Angeles Times — and Karl Olson of the San Francisco-based law firm Ram & Olson. She said the public-records request fell outside established bounds for access to salary and other compensation information for government employees.
The Leader filed a lawsuit in January after the city turned down a public-records request for the amount of bonuses handed out to each employee. The city has released only the aggregate amount, which totaled $1 million last fiscal year.
“The argument that the newspaper needs to see these amounts to know if employees are being subjected to favortism or nepotism is both specious and illogical,” Scott argued in documents filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. “The amount of merit pay received by an individual does not provide the information.”
Scott goes on to argue that the Leader would need to see all personnel evaluations to make any comparisons, which would be “speculative at best.”
Olson disagreed with the city’s arguments and said he saw no reason why the court wouldn’t side with the newspaper.
“In my opinion, the city has not advanced any reason why our petition should not be granted by the court,” Olson said in an email. “At most, it shows that some city employees would rather not have their bonuses revealed, but city employees can’t dictate what the public has a right to know.”
In her declaration included in the court filing, Burbank Management Services Director Judie Wilke argued that since merit-based bonuses have historically been associated with employee performance, releasing the information would “create embarrassment, morale disruptions and personal dissention in the workplace.”
The city began providing gross compensation figures in 2007, as well as the amount of merit pay distributed to eligible employee bargaining groups.
Burbank officials initially provided a lump-sum amount for fiscal year 2009-10, broken down by each employee or bargaining group that totaled $1 million in bonuses out of a budgeted $1.87 million.
Included in the city’s court response were declarations by the heads of Burbank Management Assn., Burbank Fire Fighters Chief Officers Unit and Burbank City Employees Assn. — all of them in support of maintaining the status quo.
Also included in Burbank’s response was a declaration by Glendale Senior Assistant City Atty. Lucy Varpetian, who stated that her office responded to a similar records request by releasing the “names, titles, department, and amount of award for each employee who had received merit pay for the period between 1999-2010.”
Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird suspended the city’s bonus program in 2008 due to budgetary issues.
Goller and Olson are expected to file a reply with the court in early May.