Monday, November 30, 2009

The 'bonus' fiasco: It's a language thing

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 12:31 PM

It’s the issue that won’t go away: bonuses for local government bigshots. Now, Mayor-elect Foxx says he’d like for City Council to start talking about whether they’ll give bonuses next  year to the city manager and city attorney. Which leads us to what may seem like a tangent, but actually gets to the heart of the issue: confusing language. The problem is the word “bonus” itself, which has nearly become a swear word these days, due to corporate crooks receiving giant bonuses for ripping off the public.

As explained by the city's human resources director, Tim Mayes, in an e-mail to the Observer, “council members and the city manager and city attorney have had an informal agreement that the bonus payments are a 'standard part' of their compensation package.”

Most people, though, don’t think of bonuses that way; they think of them, well, correctly. Case in point, here is Webster’s definition of the word “bonus”: something in addition to what is expected or strictly due, such as: money or an equivalent given in addition to an employee's usual compensation.

Not to belabor the obvious here, but if a “bonus” is a “standard part” of what you are paid, then it isn’t a bonus. It’s salary. A good first step toward clearing things up would be for local government to start calling salaries “salaries,” plain and simple, rather than continuing the use of an additional, phantom “bonus” category that is actually considered a standard part of some employees' pay. That way, Walton and McCarley could continue to get what the city agreed to pay them in the “informal agreement,” and the nasty word “bonus” wouldn’t get everyone riled up. As an added benefit, of course, the city would be sticking to standard English definitions of words — always a plus when trying to make sense. As it now stands, the way the city (and county, for that matter) tally up compensation for their managers makes as much common sense as the “double secret probations” in Animal House.

Noah Webster: show some respect
  • Noah Webster: show some respect

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