Lincoln Ashida on “Council Pay Raises”

Here’s another one from the desk of Lincoln Ashida:

Lincoln serious

Council pay raises. On Tuesday, July 7, 2009, the Hawai‘i County Council Committee on Finance voted down a resolution that sought to recommend the County’s Salary Commission reconsider their earlier action in 2008 that provided for a 22% pay increase for all nine Council members.  The introducer of the measure, Council Member Dominic Yagong, was commended for his forward thinking.  Our office also commended him for following the lead of Mayor Billy Kenoi, who earlier this year voluntarily took a one-day-per-month “furlough” and mandated his appointed office staff do the same.  Mayor Kenoi recognized the cost savings to the County would obviously not solve the County’s budgetary shortfalls, but would serve as a representation of leadership from the County’s top executive.

Although what was primarily reported in the media were the sentiments of some Council members who felt their pay was fair and necessary for their sustenance, much of the discussion focused on the desire of the majority of Council members not to “meddle” in the affairs of the Salary Commission and thereby “politicize” the salary process.

Here is a more detailed summary of the discussion as well as a recommendation made by our office:

  1. The De-politicization of the Salary Commission. Via Charter amendment in 2000, the voters in our County amended our Charter to delete any requirement that the salaries set by the County’s Salary Commission be approved or otherwise ratified by the Mayor or Council.  This significant amendment was viewed as a positive step toward removing the “politics” from the setting of salaries for the County’s top officers.  Some Council members felt any official communication from the Council to the Salary Commission would again “politicize” the process.  This is because Salary Commission members (all volunteers from our community) may feel pressured to follow direction from the Council on a publicly popular position, while their legal charge is to only consider the setting of salaries consistent with compensation in the public and private sectors.
  2. Sometimes “You can always get what you want….” I could not resist the Rolling Stones reference.  Despite Mr. Yagong’s resolution not passing, there is a very simple way for him and other Council members to achieve the very same result without the involvement or concurrence of the Salary Commission.  After all, there would be no guarantee the Salary Commission would agree with such a Council recommendation, since their charge under the law does not include the consideration of payment sources or the ability of the County to fund any pay increases.
    1. a. Following our Mayor. Mayor Kenoi’s furlough of himself and his appointed staff for one day a month for an entire year amounted to a “pay cut.”  Last week, in a much publicized case on Oahu, First Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto granted an injunction sought by employer unions against Governor Linda Lingle.  Judge Sakamoto’s order prevents the Governor from unilaterally “furloughing” civil service employees without first bargaining with the unions.  The Judge’s order notes that a furlough is the functional equivalent of a “pay cut.”  Although the term “furlough” has been widely used, it is not an accurate description. In the case of our Mayor, there will be no loss in service to the public.  In other words, the Mayor and his staff will continue to come to work each and every day, but be simply paid one day less per month. Council members, as elected (exempt) public officers, can do the very same thing.

b. Different Council members, different means. Council member salaries presently differ based on their years of service on the Council.  Council members differ with respect to other income they may or may not have, and other personal financial circumstances.  The taking of “furloughs” by Council members (like our Mayor) will allow them to determine how much they can afford to have their pay cut without placing themselves in personal financial jeopardy.  We verified with the fiscal staff of the County Clerk’s Office as well as with the County of Hawai‘i’s Department of Human Resources that these “furloughs” could be implemented immediately (even retroactively).  In sum, Council members may individually achieve what Mr. Yagong’s resolution sought, and bypass the Salary Commission while accommodating the unique financial circumstances of each Council member.

c. The public is not “furloughed.” As discussed above, all of this may easily be achieved without any loss in services being delivered to the public.  Council members will continue to serve as they presently do.  Their willingness to make a personal financial sacrifice will be much appreciated and recognized as Council members doing their part in following the excellent example set by our Mayor.

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