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Suggestions sought for attracting quality candidates to serve county

VIEWPOINT

I am writing in my personal capacity as a Salary Commission (“Commission”) member and am not representing the commission as a whole. The commission is comprised of nine members, who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Maui County Council. We volunteer our time and meet once a month in the hopes that our service will make our community the best it can be. God has made Maui a beautiful place with beautiful people, and we would like to do our part in ensuring that we have the best government possible.

The commission sets the director’s and deputy director’s salary for the 15 county departments — Corporation Counsel, Environmental Management, Finance, Fire and Public Safety, Housing and Human Concerns, Liquor Control, Management, Parks and Recreation, Personnel Services, Planning, Police, Prosecuting Attorney, Public Works, Transportation, and Water Supply. Moreover, the commission sets the salary for the mayor and council members. The directors are currently paid between $111,572 and $164,056 annually. The mayor’s salary is $151,979, the council chair earns $82,225, and the other eight council members are each paid $76,475.

The commission will be voting in the next few months to adjust the salaries enough to sustain the cost of living. In addition to salaries, these employees have a benefit package including vacation, holiday and sick pay that is approximately 83 percent of their pay. For example, the Public Works director’s annual pay is $143,409, plus $118,541 in fringe benefits or $261,950 in total compensation.

All the directors appointed under Mayor Victorino were former county or state workers prior to appointment. A popular opinion for the lack of outside interest for department leadership is that the pay is not commensurate with the proficiency required for the job; qualified private sector professionals would not take the chance of sacrificing their jobs for a four-year appointment. Hence, government employees with return rights to their old jobs often take the lofty positions for a short-term salary hike.

There is a similar dynamic with our elected council members. For many elections, it has been difficult to recruit educated, committed individuals to represent our community. Our community has been fortunate that there are some skilled, enthusiastic council members, who are committed to improving people’s lives. We just need more of them.

I take my public service as a commission member very seriously, and we need the best candidates for public office and the most qualified, dedicated directors. Considering the heartless confirmation process, during which many of the director candidates were publicly and personally chastised by council members, the former pool of candidates, already slim, most probably diminished even further.

Perhaps, increasing the three infrastructure (Public Works, Environmental Management, and Water) directors’ salaries to $200,000 should be enough to attract top candidates from the private sector. To offset the increase in salary, we could reduce some of the other directors’ salaries, since other directors do not require the same skill-set and expertise. Moreover, to address the council candidates, we could have candidates run on a platform that includes the salary that each candidate feels he/she deserves. That would mirror private sector recruitment where in order to secure the best candidate for a job, compensation at a higher level is required, as often determined by the prospective employee.

My plea to the public is to consider offering up possible solutions to the candidate conundrum. Perhaps salary is not the sole basis that someone uses to weigh the risks of personal sacrifice and continual scrutiny that is innate with public office. That is why it is vital that the community coalesces to ensure sound, practical governance.

In this year’s election, there will be mail-out ballots to reduce the barriers that typically result in a low voter turnout. Since all registered voters will be receiving ballots, I am committed to ensuring that the names on the ballot represent those individuals who are supremely committed to improving the community and the environment. Please help me (email peter@westmauiland.com) by offering suggestions on how we could help reach this goal through appropriate salary levels. The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity. Let us not let this opportunity pass or cease to exist.

* Peter Martin is a member of the Maui County Salary Commission.