The more I thought about the $17,000 in bonuses that the four Palo Alto City Council-appointed administrators received last week, the angrier I became.
Here we are at a point where the council is telling residents that the city will probably face a $7 million deficit next year. One thing that will go, saving the city $10,000, is the Brown Bag concerts which have been around for 25 years. Yet the council majority — Mayor Judy Kleinberg and Council members LaDoris Cordell, Jack Morton and Bern Beecham — voted to give out $17,000 in bonuses to four people. (Council members John Barton and Peter Drekmeier were absent.)
City Auditor Sharon Erickson received a $6,000 bonus, City Manager Frank Benest got $4,000, City Attorney Gary Baum received $4,000, and City Clerk Donna Rogers got $3,000.
Why? It’s not that the four individuals aren’t making a fair money. Benest’s salary is now a little over $208,284 a year – plus the council is paying for half of his property taxes. Rogers and Erickson make over $100,000, Baum more than $184,000. All four, in addition to their bonuses, will get the same raises as the management group at City Hall, an estimated 3 percent increase, and their customary fully paid health, dental and vision plans for themselves and their spouses.
I think the four got these bonuses simply because they did their jobs, and not because of outstanding performances. (The one exception is Erickson, who probably is the only one who deserves a bonus.)
In Benest’s case, there was a lot of council dissatisfaction with his day-to-day performance. Not only was there the Utilities Department scandal that cost the city $300,000 to investigate and that resulted in the firing or resignation of some 15 Utilities Department employees, but there also was the feeling among some council members that Benest was not always on top of things at City Hall.
So why did Benest get his bonus? I have no idea. Council members who voted for it said publicly they had problems with Benest’s performance this past year, and hoped he would improve. To their credit, three council members voted against his bonus – Vice Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, Larry Klein and Dena Mossar.
As for Gary Baum getting his bonus, I find that equally surprising. This was the attorney that has consistently claimed attorney-client privilege in dealing with the Utilities Department scandal, even though the client was, in fact, the City Council. All the council received was a two-page report on the findings of the investigation – and council members were not told who had been disciplined.
Baum was also ultimately responsible for the city having to pay $21.5 million for the Enron settlement. The council followed the recommendations of Baum's office in settling with Enron.
In private industry, “bonus” isn’t a word heard very much. You get your salary, and perhaps a percentage increase based on performance, and that is it. Even if you are in upper management, then a salary raise, and perhaps a bonus, only come after you have met a set of goals that go way beyond what your day-to-day responsibilities entail. It’s called a “management by objectives” approach, and the rewards come only after you’ve met your extra objectives.
Bonuses should not be automatic at City Hall. Showing up to work and doing an okay job is no reason to pay out a couple of thousand dollars as a reward. In fact, let’s just get rid of bonuses, it’s an outdated concept.