12% raise for county officials approved

But problem with agenda posting could void decision

The Maui County Salary Commission approved a 12 percent pay increase Friday for Mayor Alan Arakawa, his department directors and their deputies, although a problem with the posted meeting agenda could void the pay hike, at least temporarily.

The commission’s nine-member panel is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Maui County Council. The commission sets pay for elected and appointed officials. County officials can testify in support of or in opposition to pay increases, but the commission has final authority in determining salaries.

The agenda for Friday’s commission meeting did not say that a pay increase for any department head or deputy or even the mayor would be discussed or acted upon. There is an agenda heading that says “deliberation and decision making,” but it does not say what matters would be deliberated or decided upon.

In an email to The Maui News on Friday afternoon, the director of the state’s Office of Information Practices said: “It is questionable whether a member of the public could reasonably have understood from the agenda  . . . that the Maui Salary Commission would be considering pay raises for Maui County directors and deputy directors.”

But OIP Director Cheryl Kakazu Park added: “Nevertheless, without having an appeal filed and the opportunity for the board to present its side of the story, OIP can only offer general advice and cannot give an opinion on whether a violation occurred.”

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said: “The deputy corporation counsel assigned to the Salary Commission is reviewing the matter and will be advising the commission.”

Commission members referred comment on the agenda matter to county attorneys.

Park added in her statement that an action taken in violation of the Sunshine Law is not automatically void, but it could be voided by a court, if there is proof of violation. Someone seeking to have an action voided would need to file a lawsuit within 90 days of the board’s final action, she said.

Park added that a person can also file a complaint with her office, but it does not have the power to void a board action even when it finds a violation of the Sunshine Law.

Commission members voted 5 to 1 on Friday in favor of the 12 percent raise for the mayor, department directors and their deputies. The last time most of those administration officials received a raise was in 2014.

In 2013, the commission voted in favor of a 19 percent pay hike for the mayor, which was effective July 1, 2014. At the same time, department directors’ salaries were increased 15 percent. The commission also equalized the salaries of all deputy department directors, setting all of their salaries at 90 percent of their department directors.

If upheld, the commission’s pay hike would pushed the mayor’s annual salary from $135,696 to $151,980.

At a commission meeting in January, Arakawa told the commission that he was “satisfied” with the level of his pay and would not be seeking salary increases for this department heads, even if they deserved them.

Commission member Christian Tackett, who made the original motion for an increase, that was later amended to the 12 percent hike, said Friday after the meeting that the increase mirrors what government union members have received over the past several years.

He added that the mayor and the directors have not had a raise in a few years.

“The raise is basically just to keep up with what the other people are getting,” Tackett said.

He added that, in some cases, raises are especially needed because department heads may receive less or close to what their subordinates make. Also, heads of departments do not earn overtime, even if they do work outside normal hours, he said.

Tackett said that if the county wants to retain and recruit top-quality administrators, it needs to make sure they’re well paid because some department heads are on call 24 hours a day.

“It is my personal opinion it’s hard to live in Hawaii and even these guys that are the higher tier, what I consider public service jobs, they could make more outside (government),” he said.

Tackett said that if he had control over lower-level salaries, he would raise them as well.

Commission member Edward Tamori, the only commissioner present to vote “no” Friday, said that he wanted to see the raise become effective next budget cycle and not be retroactive.

“I think you start in the new year would be better,” he said.

Tamori added that he didn’t feel comfortable with the 12 percent increase. “It’s too high,” he said.

He said that he wanted more time to examine the raises.

Raising the salary of Maui County Council members also was discussed Friday, but the commission will revisit that matter later, panel members said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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