EDITORIAL | Transparency needed on city officials’ bonus


The Hot Springs Board of Directors is scheduled to go into executive session on Tuesday night to conduct annual performance evaluations of City Manager Bill Burrough and City Attorney Brian Albright, which traditionally determine whether they are due an end-of-the-year bonus for their work.

This has proved to be a controversial topic over the past few years; some of our readers have even gone so far as to suggest that any city director who supports a bonus should be voted out of office.

Let us be clear from the outset that The Sentinel-Record does not begrudge either official a bonus, nor would we go so far as to suggest a specific amount. That is for elected public officials to decide.

However, each member of the Hot Springs Board of Directors needs to be accountable for their decision on whether to give a bonus and the rationale for that amount.

Burrough and Albright famously received bonuses of 25% and 20%, respectively, in 2020. Those were reduced to 10 percent in 2021 and 2.1% for Burrough and 2.4% for Albright last year.

Let's break that down more precisely.

In December 2020, Burrough received a bonus of $42,494. Albright received a bonus of $29,465.

In December 2021, Burrough received a bonus of $17, 592. Albright received $15,248.

In December 2022, Burrough received a bonus of $3,800. Albright received $3,800.

It is worth noting that this year's evaluations are taking place two days before Thanksgiving, even though Mr. Burrough's employment agreement with the city says the board "shall" provide a performance evaluation "during the month of December of each year." Mr. Burrough was going on vacation in December and asked for the evaluations to be conducted early. Mr. Albright's agreement doesn't specify when his review is to take place.

Last December, Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe told us that the water rate increase the Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted the previous month to cover cost overruns on the Lake Ouachita water supply project influenced the lump-sum bonuses the board gave the city manager and city attorney.

The second half of the $4-a-month rate increase adopted for city customers in November 2022 went into effect this month. The first $2 took effect in January. County rates increased $3 in January and $3 this month. The rate hikes service $45 million in additional bond debt to cover cost overruns on what is now a $150 million water supply project that will far exceed the original completion estimates.

The city has said supply chain issues delayed the completion date of the water project from next spring to late 2025.

Earlier this year, the city board went against a compensation study it commissioned to look at pay in city departments and added 3% to police officer pay.

Burrough said earlier this month that the additional 3% for police was his idea, even though raises this spring put police at the top of the salary range consultants developed for the city.

He also said next year's budget will raise the city's minimum hourly wage from $12.70 to $14.70.

"We have employees working more than 40 hours who are on (food stamps)," he told the board earlier this month.

We urge the members of the city board to keep that in mind when they set the amounts of the bonuses, if it so chooses to grant them.

Regardless of their individual positions, city directors owe it to their constituents to explain why and how they arrived at their decisions. Hiding behind the curtain of executive session or "going along to get along" is a disservice to the citizens they serve.

The community deserves full disclosure because, at this point, voters may not accept anything less.