Panel stands firm on pay raises

After a public meeting on Friday morning that lasted less than 30 minutes, the five-member Maui County Salary Commission decided to stand by its April decision to increase the salaries for department directors and deputy directors by 15 percent, effective July 1.

“We’re on the eve of these raises taking place. It would be pretty difficult to reverse at this point,” commission Chairman Stephen West said at the meeting. “There was a lot of deliberation since we started the journey back in 2009 with the (salary increase) for the police chief. People may disagree but that’s why they have the opportunity to come testify before us and let their voice be heard.”

There was no one present to offer public testimony at Friday’s meeting, and West said the commission has received only one letter and had one public testifier at last month’s meeting against the salary increases. He added that the commission has received a number of letters voicing support for the increases, especially the 19 percent pay raise for Mayor Alan Arakawa approved in February.

Friday’s meeting was held to discuss the salary increases for department heads after commissioner Edward Tamori said he “couldn’t justify” awarding the 15 percent pay raises across the board without analyzing each department individually based on its merits, size of staff, duties, operation budget and other concerns.

“When we voted last time, it was across the board, but I sat down and thought about it afterwards and felt it was incorrect,” he said. “When we voted for the mayor, that was OK. Everybody felt good about it. But when the previous (Salary Commission) chair gave the directors 15 percent, I couldn’t justify it.”

However, West corrected Tamori that the raises were not a rash decision given solely by former commission Chairman Max Tsai. In fact, the process had started back in 2009 and involved each department sending either a representative or its director to testify before the Salary Commission, with some appearing on multiple occasions. After hearing testimony from each department, the majority of commission members voted to approve the salary increases for directors and deputy directors.

Earlier this year, the commission also approved salary increases for County Council members by 15 percent, and for the mayor by 19 percent. West said that while these double-digit raises are unprecedented they are justified, considering the last time the mayor and County Council members received pay raises was in 2007. In many private labor unions, it is customary for employees to receive a 4 percent raise every year, according to West.

Other committee members voiced their support for the commission’s decisions earlier this year.

“Once we make a decision, I think we need to stick to our guns,” commission Vice Chairwoman Carol Reimann said. “We can always have buyer’s remorse but if we continually go back (on our decisions), it’s like spinning our wheels. I’m inclined to stick with what the commission decided.”

West agreed, but added that the commission will reconvene in December and evaluate how the salary increases have affected the budget.

“We’ll take a good hard look at what the county finances are in December, and if at that point it looks like things aren’t so rosy, then this commission’s responsibility is to look at the salaries and possibly make adjustments,” West said.

The Salary Commission’s next meeting is Dec. 13.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at