Is it fair to compare the Burbank assistant city attorney to one working in bankrupt San Bernardino?

It's a question that's playing a big role in the breakdown of negotiations between the city and the union representing 10 city attorneys and a paralegal.

One of the main spats in the showdown between Burbank and the newly formed Burbank City Attorneys Assn. centers on which cities should be included in a salary survey that affects decisions on pay raises.

The survey, put together by city management officials, concluded that the city's eight senior assistant city attorneys made 2% more than the average of their counterparts in 11 other cities.

But, union officials say, that survey includes the lower paying cities of Inglewood, Long Beach and bankrupt San Bernardino — cities that were not included in a separate salary survey that was used to justify the 2% raises given to executives in May.

Union officials called it a "deliberate" attempt to "low-ball" the survey given that San Bernardino's attorneys work 36-hour weeks due to furloughs, and Inglewood "has no electric utility, no airport, and no fire department."

If the three lower-paying cities were excluded from the salary survey for the eight senior assistant city attorneys, it would have shown the position was instead 3% below the average.

Meanwhile, the separate survey conducted for executives showed that at $18,334 a month, City Atty. Amy Albano was 14% below the salary average of seven cities. Had Inglewood, Long Beach and San Bernardino been included, the average city attorney salary would've dropped from $21,035 to $18,723 a month.

Despite her higher-end salary survey, Albano is still below the $21,035 average, making $18,798 a month due to changes in her health care plan. She is, though, up for a 2% raise pending her next performance evaluation.

City officials said they don't "cherry pick" cities to survey, and that the discrepancies resulted from an effort to find and compare municipal jobs that most closely resemble those in Burbank. Job complexity, city size and number of employees the position oversees all go into choosing what cities to survey, said Interim City Manager Ken Pulskamp.

"We don't go and survey a dozen cities, then select eight that are the lowest pay," Pulskamp said, adding that the goal of the survey is "to compare apples to apples."

For example, in Long Beach — which is more than four times the size of Burbank — the senior assistant city attorneys do comparable work, Pulskamp said. But the Long Beach city attorney — who makes more than Albano — is responsible for the entire, much larger department, which is why that city was excluded from the executive survey, he added.

Carol Humiston, a spokeswoman for the Burbank City Attorneys Assn., questioned why, then, Santa Monica — where the city attorney makes $25,010 a month and oversees dozens more employees — was included in Albano's survey.

Interim Management Services Director Betsy Dolan declined to comment.

Even so, Pulskamp said the salary surveys aren't the only factor in determining whether to give employees raises. According to the union, the last time a survey was conducted for the city attorneys was in 1998 because, historically, their salaries are bench marked against that of the city attorney.

"We don't just routinely give employees raises to put them at the median of any salary survey," Pulskamp said. "The raises that council has given are based on the budget that the city has, then we look at what other bargaining groups have gotten."

About 100 city executives and managers unrepresented by unions received up to 5% raises in May. The "modest" raises were given to offset the impact of those employees contributing more toward their pensions, Pulskamp said.

--

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.