Written by Brian MaassAURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Bonuses handed out to three Aurora City Council appointees earlier this year have now become a campaign issue in Aurora’s mayoral race with two candidates blasting the bonuses.

“Somebody should have stepped up and said, ‘This isn’t what we do,’ ” said Steve Hogan, a candidate for Mayor.

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Jude Sandvall, another candidate, called the bonuses “appalling.”

“Unequivocally, no, it is not a time for us to be doing that,” Sandvall said.

A CBS4 investigation earlier this month revealed the bonuses. Aurora City Council awarded three of its appointees — the city attorney, chief municipal judge and court administrator — thousands of dollars in bonuses as the city was making deep cuts due to a $7 million budget shortfall.

City pools have been closed, library hours cut and employee groups agreed to concessions to help Aurora through the budget crunch.

But council awarded the city attorney about an $8,000 performance bonus, more than $5,000 to the court administrator, and a bonus of about $4,000 to the municipal judge.

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“I was very surprised,” Hogan said. “It’s not about the people who got the bonuses, it’s about the 2,000 city employees who were told, ‘The city is broke, we can’t give you anything.’ We’re not sending the same message to everyone … We’re not even sending the same message to the community when we do that.”

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“It’s very disappointing to me,” Sandvall said.

City Councilman Ryan Frazier, also a candidate for mayor, defended the bonuses saying, “That had it not been for their good work we would have had to make deeper budget cuts. And we felt this was a modest, reasonable way in which we could acknowledge the work that saved the city and our taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Frazier was among the council members who approved the bonuses.

Candidates are also assailing the way the bonuses were awarded. As CBS4 previously reported, the bonus money was agreed to in executive session and was never made public.

“If you’re doing things above board there is no problem talking about them in the light of day,” Sandvall said.

“It just shouldn’t have to come out in an investigative report,” Hogan said.

But Frazier and other city officials say the bonuses were a personnel issue, and items like that are never discussed in public.

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The Aurora Sentinel newspaper is also weighing in. According to an editorial in the paper, “It was a big, big mistake” to hand out the bonuses when city employees are taking unpaid furlough days and dealing with pay freezes.