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 Burbank’s merit pay for city employees controversy

Photo: FLLewis/Media City G -- Burbank City Hall 275 East Olive Avenue

Photo: FLLewis/Media City G — Burbank City Hall 275 East Olive Avenue

Some new developments in the growing controversy about merit pay for Burbank city employees — who gets them — how much per individual — what is the real criteria for who pockets those extra bucks — are the main questions yet to be answered fully by city officials.

Late last Friday, city officials made an effort at damage control over the merit pay issue by sending an extensive e-mail to all employees on the issue. These officials are trying to put out a fire lit by the city of Glendale’s recent detailed posting of employee compensation on its website and demands that Burbank do the same, by the Los Angeles Times/Burbank Leader, other media (including Media City Groove), as well as a number of Burbank residents.

Apparently, City Hall higher-ups have been hard at work lately crafting a response to the surge of interest in Burbank’s secretive merit pay structure. Here are some details on what was e-mailed to city employees by Burbank City Manager, Mike Flad, on Friday.

From: E-Mail Administrator
Sent: Friday, January 07, 2011 4:05 PM
To: All City of Burbank
Subject: Public Records Request for Merit Pay Information

City Employees:

Attached is information regarding the City’s response to a request for records from the Burbank Leader.  We wanted to let employees know that information already posted on the State Controller’s Office website regarding gross salary of employees by title will be added to our website and will list employees by name.  The City is attempting to protect the privacy of employees while providing as much information as possible to the public.  Attached are more details on why this information is being provided as well as our response to the Leader on what information will not be provided.  If you have any questions, please contact Juli Scott in the City Attorney’s Office.

Mike Flad

City Manager

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The attached information included a copy of a letter to Burbank Leader editor, Dan Evans, dated January 7, 2011 from Chief Assistant City Attorney, Juli Scott, and a memorandum on the Leader’s public records request from the Office of the City Manager — also dated January 7, 2011.

The memorandum states:

We will be providing the Leader with the gross compensation amounts earned by all full time City employees for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, and the aggregate amounts of merit pay awarded for the corresponding fiscal years; however, we have objected to providing the individual merit pay amounts. They have threatened litigation and the City Council will, as provided by the City Charter, direct how that litigation is to be handled, if it is filed. We will keep you update should additional substantial information be released.

In the Dan Evans letter, attorney Juli Scott indicates the Leader will be charged for some of the data.  Hmm. I received a letter from Scott, dated December 30, 2010, and in it she says I will be charged for the same information the Leader is told it will have to pay for. That doesn’t sound right to me so I sent a response to Scott yesterday. That letter is posted below.

January 9, 2011
Juli C. Scott
Chief Assistant City Attorney
City of Burbank
275 East Olive Avenue
Burbank, CA 91510

Re: Records request under the California Public Records Act

Dear Juli Scott:

I’m responding to your letter dated December 30, 2010. In that letter you said “… we are more than happy to provide you with what has been provided to the Burbank Leader…” in regards to the salaries, names, and merit pay for Burbank city employees. I accept that offer, however, there is a catch. You stated I had to contact your office to get “…the cost of providing those items…” Why is the city charging for information that the Leader is apparently paying the city to collect and distribute?

In your letter to Burbank Leader editor, Dan Evans, dated January 7, 2011, you detailed the information that was being made available to the newspaper. You stated some of the data requested would be posted on the city website. Other items would be made available and Evans would be provided with “…the estimated cost of extracting this electronically stored data ….”

The Leader is being charged to assemble this additional data, therefore, it seems like “double billing” to charge other media and citizens of Burbank for the exact same data. As a member of the media and a Burbank resident, I request that the data collected for the Leader be provided to other media and anyone in the public who is interested free of charge. Feel free to e-mail me that additional information. Or you can simply post all of the Leader requested information on the city website for everyone to see — in a true demonstration of transparency.

Sincerely,
Fronnie Lewis
Editor
Media City Groove
P.O. Box 206
Burbank, CA 91503
FLLLewis@msn.com
www.mediacitygroove.com

Burbank celebrates its centennial

Photo: www.burbankusa.com/centennial

Photo: www.burbankusa.com/centennial

B-town kicked off its centennial celebration this month. Burbank will commemorate its 100th anniversary on July 8, 2011.  A lot of events are planned. Check out the new Burbank centennial website for events and more information on the year-long celebration.

One of the freebies: a gorgeous centennial calendar loaded with photos, events, a directory of important phone numbers, quick references for boards, commissions, committees, departments, agencies, some significant places, and top officials. Calendars are available at city hall, libraries, and various other sites throughout the city.

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5 Responses to City Buzz

  1. Jim C. Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    Hi Fronnie,

    My understanding of the law is that the city is only allowed to charge simple Xeroxing cost for paper copies of these records. If they have a specific statute passed by the city council then they can charge more but only if one is on the books.

    Electronic transmission– such as by email– has to be free unless they have a fee-statute on this as well.

    And remember, all personal on-site inspections must be free. They can’t charge anything for just LOOKING at them.

  2. Jim C. Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 4:37 am #

    Hi Fronnie,

    P.S. I should add just to be precise that the city can charge for programming costs to extract certain data that’s non-standard for them to have around on their own.

    That’s what they’re probably trying to do– but you bring up a good point about re-charging you for the expense after the Leader has paid for it.

    The way to get around this is to go down and demand to see the complete payroll records in person on their computer, and then extract whatever you want to know on your own. That way the cost MUST be free.

    You can also demand to see the exact W-2s for each employee, and get a copy of them for free electronically– this is a regular record for them complete, so they cannot charge you for special programming-extraction costs. They already have that info on their own.

  3. Fronnie Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    Jim,

    Thanks for the background information and the
    suggestions. I’m still very concerned that city
    officials will bill the Leader for collecting/
    extracting some of the requested data — and then
    turn around and charge everyone else — media and
    Burbank residents again for the same data.

    The simple solution is to post on the Burbank city website ALL the information
    provided to the Leader.

  4. Jim C. Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    Hi Fronnie,

    What people can do, too, is request the same report that the Leader will be paying for, but just do it a bit afterwards. Since the city has already extracted and compiled this custom search– and generated the database report– they can’t claim that it now requires another programmed data extraction.

    Also– unless the city already has a council-approved fee schedule for public documents, all they can charge for is direct expenses.

    And– more importantly– new law says that if the info exists in electronic form then they cannot force you to buy a paper printout– they have to provide it electronically. This cost is governed as well by any council-approved fees. If there aren’t any then it must be provided for free.

    And in any case, they cannot charge anyone a per-page copy fee for an electronic file. There has to be a previously-set single fee for this, or it’s nothing at all. And they must prove that there’s one in writing.

    My recommendation to people has been to demand the same report that was supplied to the Leader, and then go from there. Or go after their W-2 amounts, which doesn’t involve a custom search.

  5. Fronnie Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 4:15 am #

    Jim,

    Good strategy. Bottom line, that merit pay data
    and other salary information on Burbank city
    employees needs to be made public. Burbank
    city employees are paid with public funds. So
    the public has a right to know how its money
    is being spent.

Comments are closed.