Burbank City Council Removes Water & Power Board Member for Not Complying With Vaccine Paperwork

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On Tuesday, February 15, Burbank’s City Council took up whether or not to remove Paul Herman from the Burbank Water and Power Board for non-compliance with the City’s COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Policy.

After the 3 to 2 vote to remove Herman from the board, fellow board member Ryan Ford sent a letter of resignation to the Council in support of Herman.

What the Burbank city Council mandated on October 12, 2021, by a 3 to 2 vote (Councilmembers Sharon Springer and Bob Frutos both voting no) that all city employees along with board and commission members will be put under a mandatory vaccination policy that stated they had until January 21, 2022, to comply with the policy. The policy was basically that each employee had either show proof of vaccination or file paperwork that would exempt them for either medical or religious reasons. Unvaccinated employees would be subject to weekly testing.

As of, February 4, Burbank’s Public Information Office said besides board and commission members, 28 city employees are non-compliant but all of those, 27 are currently on leave. That left 1 current employee that is still working non-compliant with the mandate. 239 employees have filed for exemption.

As of this past Tuesday, Water & Power board member Paul Herman remained the only Board Member or Commissioner that had not filed the paperwork.

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When reached, Herman said that “The reason I am not following the City Council’s Covid vaccine mandate is simply due to the fact that all of our BWP Board meetings are being held virtually, and it is virtually impossible for me to pass the virus to the BWP staff or my fellow Board Members through my computer.  The original intent of the vaccine mandate, as I understood it, was to help prevent the spread of the virus.  That was also the rationale for making our meetings virtual, so as to limit in-person contact.  Our Board meetings have been virtual since April 2020, and, as far as I know, there is no plan in place to go back to in-person meetings anytime soon.

I appreciate the original intent was to try and protect people, but this mandate, as applied to my situation, does nothing to increase occupational safety.  Also, I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights and civil liberties.  Forcing me to share my personal medical information is authoritarian and an extreme government overreach in this instance.  Now, for me it is not really about my vaccine information, but, rather, it is about choice.”

Vaccination card supplied from Paul Herman to myBurbank showing that he had been vaccinated and that reason for not filing the paperwork was to take a stand against the policy itself when it came to virtual meetings and sharing personal medical information. (Editor’s Note: myBurbank blacked out some areas of the card to keep from sharing sensitive information)

He also went on to say, “I choose who I want to share my medical information with.  I will not, however, be forced by our local government to do so when they have no legitimate interest in my medical information.  When we’ve reached this level of absurdity, where I’m forced to show I’m vaccinated to attend a virtual meeting, enough is enough, it’s time for people to take a stand and push back against the dictates of petty tyrants.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Herman said he spoke to City Manager Justin Hess and sent a letter to City Council members explaining his position.

When the item went for discussion at the Council meeting, things got a little contentious amongst councilmembers and at one point Frutos accused Mayor Jess Talamantes of trying to silence him.

Frutos had said In the past that ‘the rules are the rules’ when it came to the removal of board members which Talamantes reminded him of. Frutos explained that was because of attendance or residency and this was a special situation.

When the Council ultimately voted, the vote was 3 to 2 to remove Herman from the board. Both Frutos and Councilmember Springer voted to keep him in place.

Afterward, the Council said they would be happy to consider Herman again for a board position.

Reached after the Council’s decision, Herman was disappointed with the outcome and felt they did not understand his point in not agreeing to file the necessary paperwork.

“I don’t feel they understood my point at all.  The argument by the three Councilmembers that voted to remove me from the BWP Board for failing to complete some paperwork was shortsighted and lacked common sense.  This simply was not some paperwork snafu, and they all know that. 

I took a stand that went against the grain of their perceived authority and cast a light on the absurdity of their policy. 

I pointed out how absurd it is to compel an individual to provide evidence of their vaccination status in order to attend a virtual meeting, and they punished me for it.  I appreciate Councilmembers Springer and Frutos for supporting me and pointing how the decision to remove me defied logic and common sense,” he concluded.

After the Council’s decision on Tuesday night, Water and Power Board Member Ford submitted his letter of resignation to the Council.

In his letter, he said “More importantly, there is no public safety argument to be had in enforcing this during a period of virtual meetings.  I understand that people are frustrated by the unvaccinated, but to press your thumb upon the levers of power you have available to you is immoral in this situation.  The meetings are virtual, Mr. Herman (or others) clearly cannot transmit Covid-19 to fellow Board or Commission members (nor be infected by us) through the internet. 

Requiring his vaccination as a condition for volunteering on a Board or Commission, when meetings are online, is indefensible.  It doesn’t matter if Mr. Herman’s medical privacy arguments are accepted or rejected.  Your position is without merit.  Mr. Herman stated so and you chose to ignore his completely valid and salient point on this issue.  You have erred by focusing on enforcement of procedural requirements (of your own invention).

I can agree to disagree with Council Members about the requirement of vaccination more generally (healthy debate is always good and necessary!).  However, I cannot accept the removal of Mr. Herman from the Board during a period of exclusively virtual meetings for his failure to provide proof of vaccination.”

Herman said that he is going to continue to support our community as best he can. He also loves Burbank and did not rule out serving the City of Burbank once again as a Board or Commission member.

“I miss the early days of the pandemic when we would hear repeatedly “Thank you for your flexibility during these unprecedented times.”  I guess we don’t need to be flexible any longer… just follow the rules or else.”

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