LIHUE — After reflecting on a decision to freeze vacant county positions for six months, Ken Shimonishi, director of finance, said it was not practical.
“It would impact our public service levels,” he said.
An example is the Driver’s License Division.
“We’re short a couple of people, and if someone retires, and we don’t re-fill that position because we have this freeze. But the lines get longer.”
On Wednesday, Shimonishi and Wally Rezentes, managing director, appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee at the request of Mel Rapozo, council chair, to discuss the re-consideration of the administration’s decision to not fill empty positions.
“The way it was presented, and the perception of the public, there was going to be no hiring for six months,” Rapozo said.
That announcement was made public during Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s State of the County address in March.
When the mayor’s office announced its decision to put a six-month hiring freeze on vacant positions, the intent was that it would go into effect on July 1, which it did.
“That was what the mayor was trying to address, any vacancies that occurred from those dates (July 1 through Dec. 31),” Shimonishi said. “Anything that happened prior was subject to hiring.”
But, based on Shimonishi’s recommendations, Carvalho lifted the moratorium on vacant positions on July 24.
The positions were already funded in the budget, Shimonishi said.
“We’re not saying we need funds to fund this position,” he said.
Another justification is that by the end of the year, the county will see a growth in the general fund balance.
“Why would we continue to punish operations if we’re going to get there at the end of the year,” Shimonishi said.
Councilman Ross Kagawa said that while he understands filling positions if the vacancy is creating stress on a department, he asked if the administration plans to look at jobs that are not needed.
“Are we still doing that? Using whatever the purpose was to do a moratorium, and do more with less,” he said.
Shimonishi said the departments are trying to downsize when possible, and the Vacancy Review Committee is in charge of reviewing those positions.
Kagawa cited the Solid Waste Division, where new equipment is doing the work of employees.
“I thought the six-month moratorium would be a good opportunity to re-look at the numbers of staffing in those areas because the equipment has replaced the need for manpower,” he said. “It streamlines the process a little bit and reduces the size of the county.”
For Councilman Mason Chock, the reconsideration from the administration is a lesson learned.
“We need to be more cautious,” he said. “When we start sending a message to the community about us doing something, and then we don’t follow through with it, it really messes with our credibility.”
Putting a blanket moratorium on vacant position doesn’t work, said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.
“While it sounds good, it’s not practical for a growing community with growing needs for services,” she said.