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The public’s right to know

Should public employees be eligible for more than $1 million each year in bonuses — in a city the size of Burbank?

The city would prefer the payments to be called merit pay instead of bonuses. We disagree, as such lump-sum payouts are called bonuses in the private sector, and the term “merit pay” confuses the issue for non-governmental employees. That is, most of us. But whatever they’re called, it’s a reasonable way to retain talented workers.

However, should such payments continue during recessionary times when city officials have to raise fees, cut services and divert funding to cover budget deficits?

These are questions this community and its elected representatives need to discuss, although that process would be somewhat hampered by the decision not to release payout data by employee job title. Regardless of how officials fear that information could harm employee morale, the bottom line is: It’s taxpayer money, and the public has a right to know.


Earlier this month, Glendale — which paid out roughly $1 million to mid-level managers and top executives over an eight-year span — released far more detailed information, including which job titles got how much during any given year. And the city attorney’s office released the names of top executives on the data set.

In doing so, officials there cited the scandal in the city of Bell, where officials are under investigation for a pay and compensation scandal that went unchecked for years.

Paying city employees bonuses, as has been a long-standing practice here, may be acceptable to some, and not to others. But regardless of how people feel about the program, they have a right to know how taxpayer money is being spent, and to whom it’s going. These are, after all, public employees.