City won't appeal bonus decision

The Burbank City Council on Tuesday voted not to appeal a Los Angeles County Superior Court decision ordering the release of individual bonus amounts for city employees.

The Burbank Leader filed a lawsuit to obtain the information after the city declined to release the records, citing fears about workplace morale and privacy laws.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones rejected those arguments in her ruling issued in May, saying the public’s right to know the information exceeded any workplace privacy concerns.

In a 4-to-0 closed-session vote, with Councilman Gary Bric absent, the City Council declined to appeal the ruling. The city will have to cover the legal tab incurred by the Burbank Leader, which stands at $39,218.

The total does not include fees for Karlene Goller — an attorney for the Leader’s parent company, the Los Angeles Times — who helped handle the lawsuit, but does cover fees for outside co-counsel Karl Olson, of the San Francisco-based law firm Ram & Olson, and other court costs.

Under the California Public Records Act, the Leader is able to collect court costs and reasonable attorney fees after prevailing in court.

City Manager Mike Flad, who is among those department heads who hold discretionary power over the distribution of the bonuses, defended the decision to fight the release of the bonus information.

“This is the cost of our responsibility to our employees,” Flad said. “We could have just as easily been sued by our employees if we just released [the information].”

“We got a decision and now we can move on,” he added.

But according to Olson, the decision to release the information should have been clear in light of a state Supreme Court decision in 2007.

“I think their responsibility to the taxpayers should come first, and not whatever obligation they feel they have to their employees to try to resist the disclosure of information,” Olson said. “It shouldn’t have been necessary to file the lawsuit, but I’m glad they’re not going to take this any further.”

The City Council this week voted to suspend bonus pay for executives and mid-level managers, opting instead to give Flad discretion to boost the number of paid-time off-hours that employees can cash out each year. Changes for other employee groups would have to be negotiated with their respective unions.

The bonus pay records are expected to be released next week.

Flad cited the recent pay scandal in Bell as having turned the legal tide against Burbank in court.

“In a post-Bell world the public’s right to know superseded an employee’s right to privacy,” Flad said. “There might have been a totally different outcome in a pre-Bell world.”

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