County considers HR department to curb sexual harassment

LIHU‘E — The idea of replacing the county Personnel Department with a more all-encompassing Human Resources is slowly taking shape as it progresses through council and board meetings.

“One of the biggest things we want to prevent is sexual harassment,” said Sandi Sterker, chair of the Cost Control Commission. “That is happening more and more. We felt that if there was a Human Resources department we would end up not having the problem.”

Speaking on behalf of her commission, Sterker on Monday asked the Charter Review Commission to consider placing a proposed amendment to the County Charter on the ballot for next year’s election to establish a HR department.

The Cost Control Commission, which has been studying personnel operations in various county departments, has discovered numerous reasons to be concerned, such as duplicating efforts, Sterker said.

“Why shouldn’t we have a Human Resources department that would take care of all this, rather than have a Personnel Department and having all these different personnel working in all the different departments?” she said.

The Cost Control Commission took the question to the Civil Service Commission, whose commissioners said the transition would be a good thing, according to Sterker. The County Attorney’s Office has also said it would be OK to have a HR department, she said.

Sterker said that in the last 10 to 15 years there has been a large increase in sexual harassment and workplace violence cases involving the county.

“It has to be dealt with,” she said. “Instead of a Personnel Department that just hires and fires, it needs to be taken care of and addressed.”

Sterker added that some county departments haven’t had any training in the last four or five years.

The Charter Review Commission deferred its decision, pending comments from the County Council, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the Cost Control Commission as a body.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, I know,” Sterker said.

Other business

The commission also mulled other proposals, deferred all to at least its next meeting, Aug. 22.

Commissioners reviewed eliminating term limits for members of boards and commissions.

Charter Review Commissioner Ed Justus said he didn’t see why at the end of two consecutive three-year terms, a member would have to sit out for a year before serving again.

“It promotes diversity,” Commissioner Jan TenBruggencate said.

Justus also proposed amending the charter to allow elected officials to reject receiving a salary.

“Let’s just say someone is very wealthy and they don’t need the county’s money to do that kind of job, that they want to be able to serve the community in that capacity,” Justus said.

“Right, and we all do it,” Commissioner Joel Guy told Justus.

Guy said he could see how the issue could have been initiated by businessman Jimmy Jasper’s declaration that he would serve as a council member for free. But Guy wasn’t ready to support Justus’ proposal.

TenBruggencate asked Chair Sherman Shiraishi to include in next meeting’s agenda the charter’s section on ethics.

At the July 13 County Council meeting it was bought up that the charter prevents boards and commission members to represent clients before other boards and commissions. A question proposing to eliminate that restriction has been put before voters before, but it did not pass. The restriction reportedly has caused many commissioners to resign.

The commission also deferred for at least two years the question of whether the commission should be permanent. The commission was established in 2006, started operating in 2007 and is slated to sunset in 2017, only to be reformed in 2027.

The administration and the council have said it is too early to make a decision on that, since the commission is only halfway through its lifespan.

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

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