Burbank city manager threatens to resign over vote
Shortly after midnight Tuesday morning, during a City Council meeting that had stretched on more than six hours, Burbank City Manager Mark Scott said he planned to resign if a council vote did not go the way he wanted.
The issue — the creation of a new job title and salary range for an administrative position in the Public Works department — had been before council three times already.
In fact, minutes earlier, the council had approved it, but Councilman David Gordon indicated he would ask for it to be reconsidered because he had mistakenly supported it when he meant to vote against it.
That’s when Scott got up and quietly told Mayor Bob Frutos that if the item did not pass, he would submit his letter of resignation.
“I didn’t take his threat lightly,” Frutos said around 1 a.m. Tuesday, before a scheduled flight later in the morning. He and Gordon are visiting Burbank’s sister city Incheon, South Korea this week.
“I am not resigning,” Scott said in an email Tuesday evening. “I am retiring. Have not picked a date.”
When the item came up again, Scott asked the council members to explain why they were voting no and said that despite his offers to answer questions about the issue, no one had asked him outside of council meetings.
“The only comments I’ve heard to date relate to who I might appoint to the position, which isn’t a City Council issue,” he said.
The measure failed 3-2 with Frutos, Gordon and Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes voting against it. Then Frutos disclosed that Scott had said before the vote that he would resign if it failed.
Scott said he felt he was owed the courtesy of an explanation as to why the majority of council was voting down the measure, and the failure to show him that courtesy “weighs heavily on me.”
“I wanted you to understand that I am certainly aggrieved of the idea that five City Council members who know very well the concerns I’ve got about this issue, that I do not think the City Council has acted fairly on at all, that I think that you owed me — and I still think that you owed me — some discussion on that,” Scott said.
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy asked for a discussion of the vote and prodded Gordon for an explanation for his change, which he explained as a mistake due to the late hour. He also said he was uncomfortable with the salary.
Councilman Will Rogers pleaded for a discussion at another time, but it was already too late.
“I got the message from three of you, loud and clear and that’s all I needed to hear,” Scott said, clarifying that the vote itself was not the message. “I get it.”
City spokesman Drew Sugars said Tuesday that Scott “accepts the decision of the majority of the council.”
Frutos had voted against the item each time it came up, beginning on Sept. 15, when he objected to the estimated cost of $154,000 a year for the position as “too much money.”
The actual added cost for the adjustment to the position was about $14,000 a year, which had been included in the fiscal 2015-16 budget. It would have effectively given a title change and raise to a current employee.
With Talamantes absent, the council agreed to continue the item until a full council was present rather than scuttle it after it had received a 2-2 vote. Gordon had also opposed it at the time.
Then, on Sept. 24, Scott and Frutos locked horns when it came up again. Frutos began asking questions about the specific employee involved. Scott said the discussion was inappropriate for the public meeting and abruptly pulled the item from the agenda.
“At what point do you listen to the city manager?” Scott asked at the time. “I’ve never seen a city council delve into this level of detail on one specific person.”
The person in question is the administrative officer in the Public Works department who, according to Management Services Director Betsy Dolan, had taken on human resources functions, was supervising 14 employees and was responsible for the division’s safety program.
Scott said the employee was taking on so many additional duties that she had moved into a new job classification and would need to be paid more or have her duties reduced. He said it made sense to pay an extra $14,000 a year to have her continue with the added responsibilities.
The salary range is the same as the salary for a similar position at the city’s utility with similar responsibilities, Dolan said.
Frutos disagreed with the reclassification and began to ask about the employee’s work history when Scott interrupted.
“It just seems so inappropriate to do this kind of dialogue publicly,” he said, and moments later withdrew the item from the agenda.
“I would respectfully request that on a personnel matter that the City Council work with me as your city manager,” Scott said. “It’s what I’m designated as, you know, the person who’s responsible for personnel.”
Scott left the Sept. 24 meeting shortly after the exchange, before adjournment.
It’s not clear what pushed Scott to threaten resignation this week, but Councilman Will Rogers said it seemed like a “pretty classic example of micromanaging” on the council’s part to second-guess him on the personnel matter that he said “really otherwise would have been ... routine.”
“I’m surprised at the extent to his response to it,” Rogers said, adding that he thought it was a topic for Scott to bring up during a performance review.
However, Rogers said, some council members had heard from other city employees who were concerned about the reclassification.
Frutos said he simply wanted to ensure a “fair and transparent” process for creating the new position and a competitive process for filling it.
“The city manager basically said, “No, this is what I want,” he added.
In response to Frutos’ statement that he was seeking a transparent process, Scott said Frutos should reveal who his source was about the employee who was being reclassified.
“Beyond that, I have respect for my mayor and will keep working hard for him and the council until I retire,” Scott said.
Scott was hired by the city in June 2013 under a contract that, at the time, included a salary of nearly $300,000 a year. He has worked in city management for more than three decades, including as a city manager in five cities.
Rogers said Scott was unhappy with the often lengthy and sometimes painfully drawn-out city meetings.
Earlier this year, Scott put up $4,500 of his own salary to support community organizations in order to move a council meeting forward as it stretched into its fifth hour.
“It’s a challenging bunch,” Rogers said of the council. “I think [Scott’s] been tired.”
The council is not set to meet again until Dec. 8.
Chad Garland, email@example.com