NAWILIWILI — The development of a county Human Resources Department seems like a hot potato everyone wants to eat but no one wants to hold.
The Kaua‘i County Council — the latest government body to tackle the issue — has moved the matter to its Committee of the Whole. But the members did not accept this marginal development with ease.
An increasing number of cases of workplace violence and sexual harassment has prompted several boards and commissions to endorse the transition of the county Personnel Department into a fully functional HR Department.
“It has to be dealt with,” Cost Control Commission Chair Sandy Sterker said at a July 25 meeting. She told the members of the Charter Review Commission that the Civil Service Commission had looked at the issue and said the transition would be a “good thing.” The County Attorney also gave its OK, she said.
But who is going to fine-tune the rules for a new county department?
Last month Charter Review Commissioner Ed Justus had a simple solution to Commissioner Jan TenBruggencate’s reluctance to put his name on a proposal from the Cost Control Commission.
“If we are going to wait for the County Council to approve it, if they all approve it they might as well pass the resolution, right?” Justus said at the Aug. 22 meeting. “They can just pass the resolution to make it happen and not even bother with us.”
In other words: Let the council deal with it.
The CRC on Aug. 23 sent a communication to the council seeking its endorsement of the proposed transition.
At the Sept. 7 council meeting, Justus’ wish may have come true via the council’s referral of the issue to its Committee of the Whole.
At the meeting, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura promptly made a motion to endorse the transition and send a letter to the commission stating the council had taken a vote on the matter.
“Since we don’t know the outcome of the vote because we are still dragging a second, can I have a second?” Chair Jay Furfaro said.
“Second!” Councilman Dickie Chang promptly said.
But at that point, Councilman Mel Rapozo called a foul.
“Has this been vetted?” he said. “It did not go to a committee or anything, right? It just showed up on the agenda, and you’re willing to endorse it? I’m not, I’d much rather see discussion and have the administration here as well than just say yes.”
Yukimura said she wouldn’t object to that, but pointed out a problem: The request came with a Sept. 15 deadline to respond and the council’s next meeting was not until today.
Councilman Tim Bynum said he “certainly” supports the transition, but also “kind of assumed” someone would be there to discuss the specifics of the charter because he figured the amendment had been vetted and the county attorneys had reviewed it.
“I thought we would get those assurances and have an opportunity to discuss it,” he said. “I’m sharing Councilman Rapozo’s reluctance to vote without at least some questions answered.”
Yukimura said she understood the request for a full discussion and some dialogue with the administration.
“I personally strongly support this move,” Yukimura said. “I think it will take the County of Kaua‘i from the 18th Century to the 21st (Century).”
After all, a public corporation like the county, with over 1,000 employees and “all levels of complexity at work,” she said requires cohesive, proactive, professional HR support.
“The scope right now of the Personnel office, per the charter, is extremely limited and obsolete,” Yukimura said.
Council takes charge
Had Yukimura’s motion gone forward — it was later replaced by a different motion — it could potentially have meant endorsing the commission’s crafting of a Charter Amendment to be put as a ballot question at next year’s election, without much of the council’s input in it.
But at least one council member had done his homework.
Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i had prepared his response, and said he wanted to know about anticipated or projected changes in cost and in the service level.
Furfaro said Kuali‘i’s approach was probably the right way to go, and he encouraged other council members to send their own letters rather than a joint statement.
Rapozo said he has seen two charter amendments involving county departments — County Auditor, and Parks and Recreation. Both of them came with “fiscal surprises,” he said, including the Parks and Recreation Department, with a price tag of over $2 million.
“Conceptually I agree,” he said. “Eventually we gotta get to a HR position, but we gotta know how to get there before we change the rules.”
A ballot question would pass by a large number, Rapozo said. “This county better be ready to implement the amendment.”
Bynum said he also had legal questions regarding possible union policies.
Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura agreed with other council members’ views.
“If we are going to do it, we need to do it right,” she said, adding that cost and manpower projections need to be taken into consideration.
She said the council should propose to the commission things they want to see in the charter amendment.
Rapozo called attention to a section of the amendment that puts the supervision of the HR director under the mayor.
Yukimura said it was “clearly a structural issue to discuss,” because it could create some problems if the mayor disregards merit and qualifications.
Furfaro said he had a “real problem” with the proposed ballot question.
“It’s three lines,” he said. “There’s got to be more to this than those three lines.”
At the end of the day, Justus’ idea worked. The seven-member body unanimously referred the item to the council’s Committee of the Whole on a motion by Rapozo, seconded by Yukimura.
Yukimura said she would like to also send a letter to the chair of the commission expressing the council’s desire to have “substantial input” in the amendment.
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• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.