People are often curious about the reality of serving as a member of the Kauai County Council. How much time does it take to do the work? How much does it pay? Do you really have to give up your private life in order to serve? Do you have to quit your existing employment to serve on the council? Is it really a “thankless job”?
Let’s take those questions in the order listed.
How much time does it take to actually serve as a member of the Kauai County Council?
The answer of course is “it depends”. The absolute minimum requirement is that you have to show up to one meeting per week. Sometimes these meetings last two hours and sometimes they last 12 hours, but one official meeting per week is the minimum requirement. Each elected member of the Council decides how much time he/she wants to put into the job above and beyond this minimum requirement. The position is defined as “part-time” in some areas yet considered “full time” for purposes of some employee benefit and legal provisions.
In the 8 years total that I served on the Council, I have known members who worked at their council job 24/7, attending evening meetings in every community and spending countless hours researching the issues prior to council meetings. I have also known council-members who did the bare minimum.
How much does it pay?
The current salary of a council-member is $56,781, with the council-chair making $63,879. Councilmembers also receive an auto allowance of $350 per month and cellular phone allowance of $150 per month. Starting with the next council term and pursuant to the Salary Commission Resolution, council-members will make $63,140 and the council-chair will make $71,033. The auto and cellular phone allowance will remain the same. Note: A separate “Salary Review Commission” makes formal recommendations to the council that covers all salaries for the council-members, the Mayor and all directors. The language in the law is such that the passage of pay increases is contingent upon the council “failing to reject” the recommendations. Thus the council is technically never in a position of “voting for their own raises”. They can vote against them (and all others as a group) but they cannot vote for them.
How much privacy is given up once you are elected?
Councilmembers by definition are “public figures” and are subjected to more scrutiny than the average person on the street. Because they are public employees, and in charge of protecting and managing public resources (land, budgets, contracts etc) council-members and other elected and appointed persons must comply with “Financial Disclosure” requirements where they must disclose things that might cause them to have a conflict of interest, or otherwise influence their decision making. These financial disclosure documents are available to the public and on file with the County Office of Boards and Commissions in Lihue.
Can you have a second job while serving as a member of the county-council?
The answer is yes and a listing of these are as follows (per financial disclosure forms).
In addition to their employment on the council:
w Council-chair Rapozo works as the night auditor at the Kauai Beach Resort. He also owns M&P Legal Support Services, LLC.
w Councilmember Brun is employed by Hartung Brothers (formerly Syngenta) as their “community liaison” and he operates a small business.
w Councilmember Chock operates Kupua’e, a small business focused on leadership development and training.
w Councilmember Kagawa is a full-time teacher at Kapaa High School for the State Department of Education (DOE).
w Councilmember Kaneshiro is employed by Grove Farm Land Company and Haili Moe Inc. and also operates a small business.
w Councilmember Kawakami works for MFM Inc. (retail grocers) and derives income from at least four additional business entities including Kahili Development, Eleele Associates, Haupu Associates and Commercial Properties.
w Council-member Yukimura holds no other employment.
The total annual pay received by members of the Kauai County Council ranges from a high of $180,000 to a low of $76,000 (per their financial disclosures listing all income sources including council salary).
Note: The median annual household income on Kauai is approximately $65,000.
Some readers will no doubt object to the thought of elected members earning significant incomes for a job that takes only one day per week.
Others will wonder how can a council-member hold two government (one state and one county) jobs simultaneously? And still others will wonder how can a council-member be responsible for regulating an industry that employees them? All valid questions and concerns for which there are no short and pithy answers.
Oh, and the final question?
Is it truly a thankless job?
The job is certainly not without its stress, and there is no shortage of controversial issues. But in my experience the residents of our community as a whole are very appreciative of the work and sacrifice many elected officials put into their jobs.
As to the pay, there is also no shortage of people who would say “no amount of money in the world” would be enough to warrant putting yourself and your family through the trials and tribulations, that come with the job. Personally, I do not believe anyone actually does it for the money and all should be thanked for stepping up to serve.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.