The decision by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Friday to side with the Burbank Leader in its lawsuit to force Burbank officials to divulge per-employee bonus payouts should serve as notice to local governments: The public has a right to know exactly how their tax dollars are being spent.
It's not as if the decision was unexpected — at least not among people with a firm grasp of public records law. Court decisions in similar cases have repeatedly sided with the public's right to know, which is why the decision by Burbank city officials to fight the Leader's records request every step of the way begs a flurry of questions.
The most immediate question the news staff will no doubt look into after receiving the bonus information is why — why would Burbank be so keen to keep the specific amount of bonuses paid to individual city employees secret?
A city attorney for Glendale — which has made its own data public — was even cited in Burbank's court filing as deciding to fulfill a similar records request.
In responding to the Leader's lawsuit — filed by the newspaper's parent company, the Los Angeles Times — Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott contended in court filings that "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."
Clearly, the judge disagreed. And after the Leader receives and processes the information, it will be up to Burbank residents to decide if they do too.