Greener pastures elsewhere? Then let them leave. We won’t lock the door, though…

It’s so easy to demolish each one of BWP Board Member Bob Olson’s argument in favor of these city “performance” bonuses that it’s tedious to even think about. But it’s got to be done.

I challenge whether merit bonuses can be called a giveaway of Burbank taxpayer dollars. In either the private or public sector, bonus incentives can be an integral part of hiring and retaining staff.

This is a red-herring argument. No one has ever said these bonuses are necessarily giveaways, or a bad idea by policy. The problem is that they may not be appropriate right now in this economy, and that the selection process appears flawed, if not questionable.

I also question if detailed disclosure is in Burbank’s best interest as an employer (“Newspaper files suit against Burbank for public records,” Jan. 30).

It most certainly is, because if these bonuses are such a great recruitment/ retention technique as he says, then Burbank should be trumpeting their dollar amounts to the high heavens.

The term “Burbank University” is used by members of the Burbank Management Assn. to refer to difficulties in retaining staff. Burbank hires the best and the brightest seeking a career in local government, trains them exceptionally well and ends up losing them to higher paying neighboring cities.

That’s not where Burbank is losing them to, or why. What he’s referring to are the under-35 single employees who leave Burbank because they either want to live somewhere nicer (like the beach) or they feel that there are few opportunities for advancement.

As a small city with its own “family” patronage policy of hiring, most people know that there is little room for them here if they want to stay. So they leave.

It has nothing to do with pay, and if these bonuses are so effective and purposeful, then how does Olson explain this failure as a retention tool? If what he’s saying about the departure motives is correct– which it isn’t– then this only proves that these so-called early leaves are not about pay.

Them bonuses ain’t doing their job here, eh?

Burbank’s historical competitive employment advantage as a superior place to live and work has lost ground to income as housing prices, transportation and higher education costs have escalated.

That’s true everywhere in California. It’d be great if we could raise everyone’s pay for this reason, but we can’t right now.

I contend that merit bonuses may have a positive budget impact. As has been noted on occasion before the City Council by the management services director, upgrading one job category to retain a key member of the executive team can trigger increases in other categories. Increases in pay grades likely have longer term overall budget impacts than annual merit bonuses.

These aren’t just “executive team” bonuses. And Burbank’s salaries are competitive. That’s why the city council is always being bullied by staff into raising them. But even if not, we thought they were supposed to be “performance” bonuses? So are they just supplemental, off-the-books pay increases instead?

If, in the face of budget cutbacks, city services have to be delivered more efficiently by a smaller staff, then merit bonuses have the potential to save more than they cost.

Where are these poor, shortchanged city employes going to go then if they don’t get their vaunted bonuses? These budget cutbacks are everywhere in the world. There are no jobs anywhere to leave to.

I regard Burbank as a well managed city run by highly capable employees for a long time. I am confident that merit bonuses have been studied at length by staff and elected officials and have been proven an effective strategy, especially for retaining key staff who have excelled at delivering city services.

Smooooooch !

Sorry, but we’re not so confident that when the FBI rents out a floor in an old bank building next door for interrogation purposes it means that our staff is so great.

As far as public disclosure of the specifics of merit bonuses, in my opinion it is an issue with possible local consequences in Burbank’s ability to retain key executives in the face of public sector competition. I would hope the court also takes that into consideration before ruling if detailed disclosure should be mandatory.

They already did. They ruled that public employees have no expectation of privacy when it comes to pay. The poor things.

And what “private sector” jobs are equivalent to these? Not too many. The BWP people keep threatening to leave for greener pastures in the PS, so let them go. We’re sure they’ll enjoy East Texas over Malibu.

By limiting disclosure to total compensation, Burbank’s merit pay strategy and execution could be a beneficial weapon to keep the head hunters for surrounding cities from turning management staffing into a revolving door detrimental to the overall quality and cost of city services.

How so? By not revealing the bonuses of the better employees? If that’s the case then let’s keep their job recommendations a secret too from any potential employers.

We also love the idea that there’s apparently loads of jobs “next door” that are there for the plucking, and that the “headhunters” have nowhere else to go than Burbank U to find good applicants.

Olson’s been drinking the BWP propaganda Kool-Aid for way too long. Even if this fear applied to the BWP trades, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the other departments or rank-and-file employees.

Keep in mind that over 50% of the city employees who are eligible for “performance” bonuses under their MOUs actually get one (!) What this means is that the City of Burbank’s standards for awarding them to their people are way too low.

If a high school gave 52% of its students ‘A’ grades in their academic subjects then the national accreditation committees would come calling on them real quick. Olson completely ignores this preposterous award figure, and we can see why– it blows his main argument that these bonuses are used (or should be used) as retention tools for our most excellent employees.

That they are clearly not is one reason why the city wants to keep them secret.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Greener pastures elsewhere? Then let them leave. We won’t lock the door, though…

  1. Chad

    You give bonuses when times are good. That’s certainly the case in most industries I know whether private or public. You give bonuses when you are trying to retain good employees — when there are a lot employers out to recruit your best. These days people are happy to have a job. When someone like Davis claims that he’s being recruited by a Texas company and we turn around and say we’ll pony up a sweet raise for him to stay, I say go to the Lone Star State and Cowboy Up. (I know that’s not a bonus but I still can’t believe it.) Finally, if you work for the public sector you expect to have your salary and benefits made accessible to the folks that pay your salary. That’s really not a bad deal when you consider the pension and health care that’s thrown in. This is like dealing with a five year old who refuses to give back the car keys to daddy and will hold his breath and turn blue to spite parental authority.

  2. DixieFlyer

    The letter from Bob Olson can actually turn into a very beneficial contribution to the discussion over the issue of broadcasting the meetings of the Water & Power Board.
    Now that folks have heard words that he “signed for” (whether he wrote them or not) should demonstrate WHY we need to hear from these folks during their deliberations.
    Gary Bric has “proudly” threatened MORE rate increases.
    These folks review and approve change orders, ratify awarding of contracts for LOTS of $money and make recommendations about salary issues.
    We need to hear the presentations made by staff, hear the questions asked (if any) and the answers. We need to hear any follow-up questions and answers too, if any.
    The rationals offered for his conclusions should whet our appetites for more from the rest of this IMPORTANT Board.
    Let’s move the Meetings back to City Hall & get them all on Channel 6.

  3. Reader

    Let me get Olson and his view of things right ? The best way to get employees to do what they are already paid to do is hand them a bonus ? King George would have appointed Olson to a board that’s for sure he is loyal to over taxation no matter what the costs to the public!

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