Saturday, May 14, 2011

Is Burbank's Lack of Government Transparency Related to Nepotism?

Earlier this month we wrote about the city of Burbank's refusal to comply with the Burbank Leader's request for records on automatic bonuses awarded to city employees. At the time, we were just making fun of Burbank's government, which denied the request on the grounds that it would have to share data on performance evaluatons as well. After all, aren't the feelings of the city's least competent workers more important than informing the public on how Burbank spends money, particularly when it has an $8.7 million budget gap?

Burbank government: even sillier than an Animaniacs sketch.
Well, yesterday the Leader reported on the uncomfortable response the city's Civil Service Board is getting to its proposal to eliminate nepotism in city hiring. As it stands now, the commission's policy would prohibit City Council members and the city manager from hiring family members to city government posts; the policy could be extended to department heads as well, though it will not affect existing employees. Yet resistance to the proposal is already coming from no less than Burbank's Mayor, Jesse Talamantes, who doesn't want to "close the door to any family members". Says the Mayor: "Shame on me, I guess, because I decided to run for City Council, and then my children cannot work where their dad worked and the city he now represents". To Talamantes, this is all about "the family concept in the city of Burbank".

By itself, that should be alarming to anyone who believes governments behave badly without careful scrutiny. (This is LA County, after all.) Does Burbank's mayor really not get that personal relationships often cloud the judgment of high-ranking government officials? Or that people who disagree with him politically might be scared to death by the "family concept" in government? We'll leave those as rhetorical questions, and raise another one: what if the automatic-bonuses story is related to the nepotism policy? In other words, what if Burbank is stalling on making bonus information public because doing so would shine a light on a serious nepotism problem within the city's government? Inquiring minds, surely, will want to know.

(UPDATE: The LA Times reported on May 22nd that an LA County Superior Court Judge has ruled that Burbank must disclose information on individual bonuses.)


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