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Council hopefuls plead their case

Candidates highlight stance against city workers' bonuses as part of their platform.

January 22, 2011|By Gretchen Meier, gretchen.meier@latimes.com

With an $8.8-million budget gap looming over City Hall, candidates for City Council took a hard line this week against continuing merit-based bonuses for city employees.

Last fiscal year, city workers got a combined $1 million in bonuses, even as City Hall worked to bridge a multimillion-dollar budget gap.

Police Commissioner Robert Frutos and Landlord-Tenant Commissioner Jacqueline Waltman, both candidates for council, adamantly opposed any sort of bonus pay program at the election forum Wednesday hosted by the League of Women Voters Glendale/Burbank at City Hall.

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"I don't support bonuses at all," said Frutos, who was the first to respond to a question about the disclosure of information on Burbank's merit pay program. "This is not a private business; it is a city government."

Waltman, a parole agent in Los Angeles, agreed and called for more information about "who got what and why they got it."

City officials have declined to disclose information on which employee got bonuses and how much.

Longtime Planning Board member Emily Gabel-Luddy also called for greater transparency and suggested alternative uses for the money or even the temporary suspension of the program in light of the poor economic situation.

"Public employees are willing to do their share during a tough time," said Gabel-Luddy, who worked as chief urban planner for Los Angeles before retirement. "But these agreements are from different times."

No City Council member has outright opposed or defended the employee bonuses at City Hall since the news broke in December, and incumbent Councilman Gary Bric was no exception on Wednesday evening.

"It is difficult to ask voters to accept bonus pay when there are drastic cuts made that affect the quality of life," Bric said.

He acknowledged that the merit-based bonuses have been part of employment agreements for up to 20 years, and that it might be difficult to eliminate those provisions.

"I do agree with the transparency part," he added.

The forum, driven primarily by questions submitted from the public, was a celebration of two centennials, according to Chris Carson, co-president of the league.

"Not only is it Burbank's centennial and 100 years of democracy in the city, but it is also the centennial of women's suffrage in this state," Carson said before the meeting. "Imagine that 100 years ago some of these candidates couldn't even run for office."

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