NAWILIWILI — County Council on Sept. 7 was supposed to take action — likely receive or approve — a simple communication from the county Personnel Department disclosing the administration’s fourth-quarter report on vacancies, new hires, reallocations and promotions.
But something caught the eye of at least one council member: The county on June 30 had 160 vacant job positions.
“The disturbing part is that of that 160 (vacancies), 93 of them are not being recruited for, or at least have not been requested, which is telling me that there is no attempt by the county administration to fill these positions, ” said Councilman Mel Rapozo, adding that it is troubling that many of these positions are police officers and park caretakers.
He said some of these positions may have been filled since the beginning of the current fiscal year, on July 1, but several of the vacancies go back many years.
“With 8.5 percent unemployment on the island, I think we should be actively recruiting for these positions,” Rapozo said.
Rapozo’s comments prompted an avalanche of reactions from other council members, some surprised with the high number of vacancies, others saying it’s old news.
Councilman Tim Bynum said he had no objections to further discussion and that he would be supporting it. But he also said this is a report the council receives routinely; it’s not anything new.
The administration has been “very straight-forward,” and has said they have chosen not to fill those positions because of fiscal concerns, he said.
“I think it’s a good discussion to have, but it is not a surprise to me because we receive this report every quarter,” Bynum said. “The administration has told us up front they are not hiring these positions in order to keep the county’s expenditure down.”
Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura, echoing Rapozo’s concerns, said she wanted to know how many of those positions were dollar-funded and how many were not.
“I think we need to know the story behind this list,” Nakamura said.
Dollar-funded positions are held by $1, and could be quickly filled by the administration in case of need.
But Chair Jay Furfaro said there is an “understanding” that the administration still needs council approval to “trigger” a dollar-funded position.
Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i also questioned the large number of vacancies.
“Clearly, if we want to provide optimal service to our constituents, we cannot have vacant positions for years and years,” he said. “And if we are going to have it … we should not be letting those funds build up and be used for other purposes without the council playing a role on that.”
Furfaro said he would be sending the administration a communication but also reminded other council members that the document before them represented figures from the end of last fiscal year, not the current one.
“My communication will focus on two items,” he said. “Number one, I would like the administration to list the current positions that are vacant, that we actually allocated a salary to. Subsequently, I would like them to give us a second list of those items that are dollar-funded.”
The council unanimously voted to send a new communication to the administration and include their response in the Sept. 28 council meeting.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.