CITY HALL — City managers received roughly $1 million in bonuses between 2000 and 2008, according to records released Wednesday
The bonuses to mid-level department managers and their executives were handed out on a case-by-case basis under a program that rewarded "an exceptionally high level of excellence in the performance of their duties," according to the policy.
The highest amount awarded in a single year was 2008, when 39 employees received bonuses totaling $223,393 — a more than 2,000% increase from 1999, when two employees received a total of $10,674, the records show.
The criteria for bonus payouts also included factors such as exceptional attendance records, leadership skills and "unusual job interest which results in a high quality and/or quantity of work output."
The City Council did not have to sign off on the bonuses approved by City Manager Jim Starbird.
The amounts were capped at 5% of the employee's base pay minus taxes and could not be given out to more than 20% of eligible employees, according to the policy.
City Council members said they were unaware of the payouts listed in the records, which were released Wednesday in response to repeated public records requests from longtime City Hall critic Barry Allen.
"In the totality, it does seem like a large amount of money," said Mayor Ara Najarian. "So my first reaction was, 'Wow that's a lot.' My second reaction was, 'Why didn't I know about any of these?' I think that was probably the thing that concerned me the most is my being unaware."
Starbird on Wednesday defended the bonus program, which he said was used with discretion during stable financial times to reward "extraordinary" performances among a select group of employees — a practice he said is common in many local governments.
"They are a way to recognize exceptional performance, not just doing a good job and doing what you are supposed to do," he said. "And as a percentage and a cost, it's really very small."
The bonus payments represented less than 1% of the payroll for eligible employees during the same period, he said.
The merit-based bonuses haven't been doled out since 2008, when Starbird froze the program after the General Fund budget, which pays for most public services, started suffering from multi-million dollar deficits.
"Just recognizing we were entering difficult times, I froze all merit compensation for the whole organization," Starbird said.
Pasadena has a similar merit bonus program for management-level employees, which has also been frozen in recent years as the economy turned south, said city spokeswoman Ann Erdman.
Pasadena bonuses could be up to 12% of an employee's base pay, but required City Council approval, according to the city's employee manual.
Information on the amount of bonuses given out in previous years was not immediately available on Wednesday.
Santa Clarita uses merit to determine step increases in base pay, but does not have a bonus program for city employees, a spokeswoman said.
"That is it. We do not have any kind of merit or bonus pay beyond those step increases," city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said.
In Glendale during the eight-year span of bonuses, retired Assistant City Manager Bob McFall received $31,590; retired Fire Chief Christopher Gray received $24,344; and former Finance Director Robert Franz got $21,049.
Also listed in the records posted on the city's website: Former Police Chief Randy Adams, who is under investigation for his role in the compensation scandal in the city of Bell, received $15,982; Redevelopment Services Director Philip Lanzafame received $14,547; Community Services & Parks Director George Chapjian got $15,443; and Planning Director Hassan Haghani received $8,125.
Najarian said he would insist that any future allocations require City Council input.
"Although some may accuse us of micromanaging, I think it's certainly our responsibly to make sure funds and bonuses are paid out when appropriate only to the most deserving," he said. "And it should be an exception rather than a rule to anyone receiving a bonus."