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Panel sets special meeting to revisit pay increases

The Maui County Salary Commission will meet Dec. 23 for a special meeting to once again take up pay raises for Mayor Alan Arakawa and top appointees in his administration.

The panel’s meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. in the Mayor’s Conference Room on the ninth floor of the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku.

The agenda calls for action on compensation for the mayor, managing director and deputy managing director, the county auditor and directors and deputy directors of county departments.

“Basically, it’s a redo,” said commission Vice Chairman James Likes on Thursday. “Let’s do it and do it right.”

The newly posted agenda gives members of the public a chance to give input, he said.

The commission will consider, for the first time, whether to give a pay raise to the county auditor, Likes said, adding that he didn’t know what level of compensation the commission would propose.

On Dec. 9, the commission approved 12 percent pay raises for the mayor and his department directors and deputies.

But that action came under an agenda that did not specifically say that the nine-member appointed panel would consider pay raises for top Arakawa administration officials. There was an agenda heading for “deliberation and decision making,” but there were no specifics.

The commission had studied the compensation of directors and deputy directors and was ready to take action, Likes said.

“There wasn’t anything else to do other than make up our minds,” he said.

The panel received legal advice that its action could be covered by “deliberations,” he said. But, in hindsight, “people could misinterpret that. . . . It could have been more explicit.”

State Office of Information Practices Director Cheryl Kakazu Park reviewed the Dec. 9 agenda at the request of The Maui News.

Via email, she 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.”

However, without having a complaint to act on, the office could only offer general advice and could not give an opinion on whether there was a violation of the state Sunshine Law.

The commission voted 5-1 in favor of the pay raises. The last time those administration officials received a raise was in 2014.

That was a 19 percent pay hike for the mayor, and department directors received a 15 percent increase. Deputy directors’ salaries are set at 90 percent of their respective director salaries.

When asked what justified the double-digit pay increases, Likes said that the commission studied civil service contract pay increases, the cost of living, inflation, the downturn in the economy from 2007 to 2009 and comparable director and deputy salaries from the counties of Hawaii and Kauai.

For Maui County directors and deputy directors, employees in some departments have been earning more than deputies and almost as much as directors, he said.

A former Boeing engineering executive, Likes said he had given comparable, double-digit raises to employees, especially those at the highest levels with the most responsibilities.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.