Start the Presses: What's on tap at the News-Press & Leader

Now that we've gotten the Sunday News-Press & Leader off the ground, it's time to celebrate. Please stop by our launch party from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at our offices: 221 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. You'll need to let us know you're coming so we have enough food and drinks. Drop us a line at (818) 637-3254.

The launch of the Sunday edition, though important for us, is hardly the only thing going on these days. Both Burbank and Glendale are gearing up for their respective elections. Burbank's first round is on Feb. 22, while Glendale's one-and-only election day is April 5. If needed, Burbank will hold a second round on April 12.

Readers of the Burbank Leader saw the paper's endorsements last Saturday. The editorial board will be conducting interviews of candidates for Glendale City Council, the Board of Education and Glendale Community College's Board of Trustees in the coming weeks. We are planning to announce our recommendations for those races — as well as for the local ballot initiative Measure S — on Saturday, March 12.

Burbank, as it has for some time, is doing its balloting via mail. This means that all election materials must be received, not postmarked, by Tuesday. If you're a Burbank resident and you have yet to vote, drop off your ballot at City Hall to make sure your vote counts.

As a resident of the Media City, I have long disliked mail-in balloting. Though its effect is so much more immediate, municipal elections are traditionally the ones with the lowest turnout.

Though it may seem ridiculous, several people have told me they don't bother to vote because you have to affix a stamp to the ballot. And, of course, each ballot, regardless of how many voters live at one address, requires its own stamp.

We need to boost turnout. Burbank has problems, no doubt, and these problems will not be addressed properly without an engaged electorate. It seems the increased cost of a postage-paid ballot would be a good investment.

There are about 50,000 registered voters in the Burbank. If we had full turnout, the postage would cost the city about $21,000. That's a whole lot less than the $1 million the city provided in merit-pay bonuses last year.

Speaking of which, I want to give an update on the Leader's lawsuit against the city. To briefly recap: The paper is seeking information regarding bonus payouts provided to city employees. A large number of eligible municipal workers — slightly more than half — received these payments during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The city has refused to provide us with that data. Since the payments are merit-based, the argument goes, saying who received them, and how much, would be tantamount to releasing that person's employee evaluation. We disagree, pointing to a California Supreme Court decision that states the compensation rates of public employees is, well, public.

We filed our lawsuit in January, asking that the case be heard as soon as possible. We hoped to have a hearing in late March, but this has been delayed, in part because the city objected to the judge initially assigned to the case, James Chalfant.

"The judge is prejudiced against the City of Burbank and the interests of the City of Burbank," Chief Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott wrote in her request to have Chalfant removed.

I have no insight into what the city has against Chalfant. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I did not ask Scott why. Due to the realities of this issue — I would essentially be asking her to give me the city's legal strategy — I could not imagine she'd tell me.

Also, the practice of making a preemptory challenge against a judge is not especially uncommon in Los Angeles County, so it may mean little. In the end, though, it does mean we'll have to wait a bit longer for our day in court. Stay tuned.

DAN EVANS is the editor. He may be reached at (818) 637-3234 or by e-mail at dan.evans@latimes.com.

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