Council approves new HR Department

LIHU‘E — When the next fiscal year rolls out June 1, the County of Kaua‘i will have a brand new department. The Kaua‘i County Council on Thursday approved the reorganization of the Personnel Department into a Human Resources Department.

“The system we have right now doesn’t work,” Council Chair Jay Furfaro said. “Flat out, it doesn’t work.”

The transition should be “fully accomplished” by October, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in the message attached to his supplemental budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, submitted to the council Tuesday.

Last year, the Charter Review Commission and the council spent many hours discussing the establishment of an all-encompassing HR Department to replace a Personnel Department scattered throughout several county agencies.

The Civil Service Commission and the Cost Control Commission have also asked the administration to get the ball rolling.

At the crux of the matter was the millions of dollars the county has paid in settlements in sexual harassment and workplace violence claims over the last few years.

The Charter Review Commission mulled about adding a question to this year’s ballot, asking voters if they would want the Personnel Department to be replaced with an HR Department.

But after a few meetings — and criticism on the lack of substantial information on how the administration would implement the transition — commissioners left it up to the council to decide what to do.

Council members have for years talked about a transition. Although there has always been a consensus in the council that something needs to be done to remedy the claims and subsequent settlements, some council members have felt the administration was not ready for a new department — potential high cost was the main red flag.

After hearing from the council and the commissions, the administration formed a task force last year and finished a plan by December. But it wasn’t until Carvalho released the supplemental budget for FY 2013 that the proposal for the new department was unveiled.

“Although it is not a high-priority cost item in the fiscal year 2013 budget, this project is a high priority for next year,” Carvalho said in his supplemental budget submittal.

Carvalho’s proposal, however, still faced opposition from some council members.

Councilman Mel Rapozo said the concept is a good one and the county has a lot to gain with an HR Department. Rapozo, however, voted against the proposal for several reasons.

He said problems within the Personnel Department have to be solved before a transition is made, there was no thorough analysis of impacts on Police and Fire departments, and there will likely be requests for new positions next year, increasing fixed operational costs.

Councilman Tim Bynum said he is hopeful the “potential payoff” will be worth it. “I know the status quo is not OK,” he said.

Councilman Dickie Chang said he was “very skeptical” in the beginning stages of the process, but has since gained confidence.

Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i said the request from the administration came very late in the budget review process. He said he would like to have dealt with it separately, and at any time.

Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura said the establishment of a new HR Department is a “watershed decision” that will help the county to achieve the goal of providing a high level of services to its employees.

She also anticipated additional costs, but said those costs will be offset by losses that will be cut.

“I’m voting for this in the faith that it will lead us to better customer services for both our departments and employees,” Yukimura said.

Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura supported the proposal, but said she is concerned with leadership and will be looking into the issue to make sure the administration gets it right from the start.

Furfaro said he was “kind of inspired” with this first step toward the HR department. But he, too, let the administration know he would be vigilant over the move.

“My message is that you buy into it 100 percent,” he told the administration, adding the new department needs to know their job is to keep the county “out of trouble.”

Kuali‘i and Rapozo were the only “nay” votes for the proposal.

Visit www.kauai.gov for more information.

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

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