Personnel still not ready to take on HR role

NAWILIWILI — The county Personnel Services Department is seeking a significant increase in funding — mostly due to the end of furloughs — but Kaua‘i County Council members are more focused on its ongoing transition to human resources.

Personnel Services Director Malcolm Fernandez recently appeared before the council to present the department’s $1.02 million budget for Fiscal Year 2012, which starts July 1. The request represents a 16.9 percent, or $147,400, increase in funding for the department compared to the current fiscal year.

However, council members seemed more concerned with its transition from a personnel to human resources department, which is taking years to become reality.

“I appreciate your answers today, but they are not different from the answers I heard in the past,” Councilman Tim Bynum told Fernandez at the April 11 hearing.

Bynum said he has asked the same questions for the past five budget review sessions, and has yet to see changes.

Bynum said he wants to see an “HR-type of arrangement,” but he is unsure if it’s fair to ask the department head why it’s not happening, because there needs to be resources available, plus direction from the administration on how to move.

“I don’t see anything in the budget with a study on how we are going to integrate financing, I don’t see any consultants,” Bynum said. “What I do see is the staff of a risk management position in finance.”

Bynum said he asked last year if the risk management position belongs to the Finance or Personnel department. “In the long run, these are questions the administration needs to answer.”

He said he is hoping for a dialogue with personnel and the administration on getting more systematic on how “to move from Point A to Point B.”

Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said the goals and objectives described in the budget presentation of the Mayor’s Office and the department are not clear that Personnel is moving in the direction of becoming an HR department.

A plan for transitioning needs to be articulated, she said.

County Managing Director Gary Heu said the discussion is not new, and there are many in the county looking into it. When the administration gets to a point where there is some “clear sense” of what is necessary for a transition, it may bring some outside assistance.

“We are not at that point yet,” Heu said.

Transition

Councilman JoAnn Yukimura said the department’s mission is to provide quality service to the public, county employees and departments to enhance the achievement of goals.

When she asked Fernandez if quality of service meant offering “quality human resources services,” he said the answer would be yes provided that he had extra money and bodies to do it.

“What do you see as human resources services?” Yukimura said.

Fernandez said the answer could be a “variable amount of things,” because not every HR department provides the same services.

Yukimura said the council is supportive of risk management training, but she is not clear on how the administration or the department is handling it.

Fernandez said that when he worked for other companies, risk management was not part of a human resources department; it “stood alone on the side,” attached to the finance department.

“In other organizations it’s where it belongs,” said Fernandez, explaining that risk management is in charge of “doling out” the money to settle cases.

“Or HR is responsible to see that we never got to the cases,” Chair Jay Furfaro said. “That’s the bigger issue here, so let’s not lose focus. … That portion is within your scope.”

Yukimura said “finance is the tail-end treatment” of the problem.

“You folks are the prevention aspect of risk management,” said Yukimura, adding that the county trains employees to help recognize risk situations before they turn into injuries or lawsuits.

Fernandez said the department sees itself as the prevention aspect of risk management, but doesn’t have current goals or objectives including such aspects, based on how it operates as a personnel department.

The department is considering a long-term strategic plan addressing the issue in more detail, according to Fernandez. But he said he doesn’t have a time frame for the strategic plan.

“We are still just looking at what we need to do first.”

Fernandez said he agreed that a training business plan should also reflect potential risk management with employees, and in the near future the council would be seeing such a plan for a human resources department.

Councilman Mel Rapozo said the department’s budgetary report has nothing to do with risk management.

“What in your opinion is your function?” Rapozo said.

Fernandez said the department is moving toward providing the services the council wants.

“The training is the one issue we never had,” he said. “And this is why I’m adding in the training parts in there.”

Heu said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has stated that his vision is to have a fully functional HR department.

Fernandez reports to Carvalho, Heu said, but his employment is controlled by the Civil Service Commission, which has made “very clear” that there’s an expectation that Fernandez will assist in moving Personnel into a position where eventually it will become an HR department.

There’s nothing in the budget that provides for a transition, but Heu said once the administration feels that there’s a good plan to effectuate the transition they will come before the council, either during a budget session or through a money bill “to make it happen.”

Budget breakdown

“The increase to salaries and wages over last year would be about $58,000, which is 11.3 percent,” said Fernandez, adding that the increase reflects “getting back to pre-furlough levels” plus a full year of funding for a clerk position.

Salaries and wages will increase to $568,029 in FY12, from $510,441 in the current fiscal year.

Yukimura said the council funded about three or four years ago a position to help update personnel files.

Fernandez said the position was filled in February.

“So the council approved this position more than two years ago, you filled it 45 days ago?” Furfaro told Fernandez. “For your department I am totally surprised that you can’t move more effectively and quicker to fill the personnel needs of this county.”

The department’s employee benefits will increase to $357,292 in FY12, up from $279,802 in the current fiscal year, reflecting a $77,490 increase.

Fernandez attributed the 27.7 percent increase in benefits to the end of furloughs and the hiring of a new clerk, plus an anticipated increase in costs for retirement, health funds, Social Security and other employment benefits.

The cost of operations will climb 15.7 percent, about $12,000, the budget shows.

“Mainly we are looking at providing funding for employee training on specific items like drug and alcohol testing, preventing workplace violence, first aid and CPR, and monies for staff training in the areas of FMLA, fair labor and fair labor standards act,” Fernandez said.

Visit www.kauai.gov to view the archived meeting online or for more information.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@thegarden

island.com.

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