GUEST VIEWPOINT – Offensive ‘Article 29’ revisited

After watching the discussion on Ho‘ike community television of the Salary Commission’s report at the May 2 council meeting, I was as angry as some Kaua‘i County councilmembers. They were angry about their unfair treatment in the county’s salary process. My anger was in response to the lack of pertinent information and perspective in the discussion.

My purpose here is to help fill that void.

The immediate cause of anger among councilmembers is the provision in Charter Article 29: “No change in salary of councilmembers shall be effective during the term in which a change is enacted or for 24 months after a change is enacted, whichever is less.” 

The provision means that current executives will begin receiving generous raises about a year and a half before members of the next council receive any raises.

The offending provision was created by the council itself as part of the original Article 29 (which established the Salary Commission) that was proposed by the council and approved by the voters in 1988. Three current councilmembers also held that office in 1988.  The provision was just one element in what is arguably the most flawed and thoroughly politicized charter amendment ever adopted.

The offending provision was not relevant or necessary in 1988, nor is it today, because the authority to set council salaries was transferred from the council to the Salary Commission. There is no more reason to set arbitrary effective dates for council salaries than for administrative salaries.

The next-immediate cause for councilmember’s anger is the dereliction of the Charter Commission. I served as a member of the Salary Commission in 2003-04. That commission proposed a new version of Article 29 to the Charter Commission that sat during 2005-06.  The new version eliminated the offending provision as irrelevant and unnecessary, but the Charter Commission retained the provision in the amended Article 29 they proposed and the voters approved last November.

I sought on two or three occasions to explain to the Charter Commission why it was not necessary to retain the offending provision. I was no match for the four attorneys who were instrumental in retaining it. During most of the deliberations about the new version of Article 29 there was no discussion of the provision since it had been removed in the Salary Commission’s proposal.

At a late date the Charter Commission’s special counsel, in consultation with the county attorney, re-inserted the provision and the two attorneys on the commission took the lead in confirming the retention of the provision against the advice of the Salary Commission. As a result, the current Salary Commission’s hands are tied as to when council raises can become effective.

The Charter Commission’s dereliction means that another charter amendment will now be required in order to enable the Salary Commission to handle the timing of council raises rationally.

The role and compensation of councilmembers is just one of several interrelated areas that are long overdue for a conceptual re-assessment by the Charter Commission, the voters, and county officials. For example, re-thinking issues related to the council goes hand-in-hand with determining whether the public interest would be better served by a council/county manager system than by the current council/mayor system.

The Charter Commission is the agency charged most directly with initiating conceptual re-assessments, but the commission’s ability to reach sound and useful conclusions depends heavily on public participation and the proactive involvement of elected officials who place statesmanship above politics and the public interest ahead of private ambition.

My last statement reminds me that six months after the voters agreed to allow the Charter Commission to sit continuously for the next 10 years, a commission has been appointed but not activated by the mayor. Contrast that reality with the fact that the mayor activated the Salary Commission at the beginning of February when it had only four of seven members (and after the mayor and council failed to appoint a commission at all for 2005-06) and encouraged the commission to slight its mandate to adopt policies governing its decisions and to establish salaries by March 15.

•Horace Stoessel is a resident of Kapa’a. He regularly contributes commentaries to Forum.

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