Raises sound wrong, but they are right

Would it surprise you to know that Kauai’s police chief receives a salary of $127,313, but a police sergeant, with overtime, can make as much as $191,764?

Or that the fire chief gets $127,733, but a mid-level firefighter — again with overtime, which the chief cannot receive — is paid as much as $145,417?

Or that the finance director makes $119,357 while the accounting systems administrator, with $35,104 in overtime, gets $147,922?

Or, finally, that the county’s chief engineer gets $119,357, while the base salary — including no overtime — for a civil engineer in the department can be as much as $143,934?

If you find these disparities jarring and wonder if they don’t make it harder for Kauai County to attract top department heads, you’d be right.

Consider:

• The Kauai Fire Department hasn’t had a chief since the retirement late last year of Chief Robert Westerman.

• The Kauai Police Department was finally able to hire a retired captain from the police department in Las Vegas to succeed retired chief Darryl Perry — but only after senior ranking KPD officers declined to apply for the job because they couldn’t afford to take the pay cut or wanted to retire themselves and not have to take on the extensive responsibilities of being chief.

• The county engineer position remains filled on acting basis after the previous engineer departed to work for the Hawaii Department of Transportation in part because he has young children and needed to improve his salary situation.

Welcome, essentially again or still, to the world of something called “salary inversion,” a situation that arises when the top administrator of a public agency, as a practical matter, earns far less than the people who work for him or her.

On Wednesday, the Kauai County Council (salary recommendation: $67,956 per year) will debate a report by the county Salary Commission on whether to accept a series of raises for top officials. This has become nearly an annual ritual, in which the Salary Commission makes recommendations that actually make sense in terms of keeping Kauai competitive with other governments throughout the state, only to have trouble getting the proposal past the council, whose members resist being seen as handing fat pay increases to themselves and other government officials.

There were no raises for these officials at all between 2008 and 2015. Current salaries were set in 2016, but lag well behind other jurisdictions.

The matter came up two weeks ago and was tabled until Wednesday’s meeting only because council member Arthur Brun was unable to attend the meeting and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro concluded that the remaining six members were split 3-3, so the measure could not advance.

Little wonder, then, that if you wonder about the quality of public services on Kauai, you need only look at how competitive the salaries are for the people who run the daily work of the departments.

For example, Kauai’s county attorney makes $119,357 a year, but the same office in Hawaii County pays $153,228. The exact same disparity holds true for prosecuting attorney. Kauai’s water department director makes $119,357, but the head of the exact same department in Honolulu gets $180,019. Kauai’s county clerk gets that same base, but her counterpart on Oahu makes $160,920.

While we’re at it, Honolulu’s fire chief gets $192,528 and its police chief $198,840. If using Oahu figures is seen as cherry picking, though, these two chief positions in both Hawaii and Maui counties also receive far more than the comparable officials here. Maui’s police chief receives $155,736 while Hawaii County’s fire chief gets $151,200.

All of the salary figures mentioned in this column are taken from the Salary Commission’s report to the council dated March 11.

Even with increases recommended in the report, Kauai County will still lag its competitors. The recommended salaries include $137,022 for the police chief and fire chief, as well as numerous others. The raises are generally about 7.6 percent.

The report included testimony from public hearings the commission held to set the new recommended salaries. One of the people who testified was Mary Kay Hertog, chair of the police commission.

Here is what she said of the situation: “Potential contenders within KPD stated the primary reason (they did not apply) was they would take a significant cut in pay if they became chief.” Even out of state applicants were reluctant, Hertog testified. “They stated it didn’t make sense to incur the expense to move to Kauai where they would take on more responsibility for less pay,” she said of the search.

It was even more complicated than that, she said. “We also wondered why no recent in-state police retirees … applied,” she testified. “We learned it was because their retirement pay would be held by the state, as ‘double dipping’ is not allowed. This state level decision will most likely never change, but it’s clear it has had an impact on retired local officers, who may be very qualified, to want to compete for this position.”

Hertog’s testimony concluded with one sentence: “I ask that you consider drafting a resolution to ask for a raise in the base salary of the police chief.”

Westerman said the situation also keeps talented younger members of the fire department from pursuing promotions, in part because they can hold onto lower level jobs and make far more than their supervisors.

“If they can stay at a lower level position and make more money with a lot less responsibility, why progress?” he said.

“This is not only detrimental financially to the individual and family, but to the county when a firefighter says ‘Oh, well, I’ll do only what I’m paid for and not try to improve.’”

At the level of elected officials, voting to raise pay for department heads is almost always criticized as fattening already fat cats, or laying the groundwork for raising pay for the elected officials themselves, though existing law generally prohibits an elected official from voting for a raise that will become effective during his or her current term in office.

In Kauai, though, this kneejerk reaction has become so entrenched over time so much that the county has now removed itself from any role as a competitive salary environment for its top officials. Council members fear enraged reactions from their constituents if they vote for any pay increases, so they don’t do what would make sense, which is to make Kauai a competitive place for top administrative talent.

With fresh faces on the council this year and the potential for a true partnership between the mayor and the council, 2019 is the year when these recommendations should be taken seriously and voted into effect. Far from becoming a budget boondoggle, such a step would make Kauai County a better place.

•••

Allan Parachini is a former public relations executive who makes furniture, lives in Kilauea and writes periodically for The Garden Island.

13 Comments
  1. Steve April 9, 2019 2:15 am Reply

    So fix the overtime epidemic! Systemic overtime in the lower ranks sounds like rampant lack of overtime discipline on the part of management. So yeah, let’s reward systemically poor management with raises—there’s some sound thinking for you.


  2. Charlie Chimknee April 9, 2019 7:27 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    The writer of thIs article, must be a newcomer to Hawaii, and Ms. Hertog, seems to be unaware that Kauai has immensely less taxpayers to support public salaries.

    Plus living on Kauai, if you avoid the traffic, provides a life in a paradise that no other Hawaiian island offers.

    Many tax payers are small business owners and they and their families work 7 days a week at long hours to pay the taxes that pay those public salaries..and the business owners and family do not get paid overtime, so why should these senior member of public employment need overtime other than to bloat their salaries and worse their lifetime retirement for both they and their spouse.

    And the elected officials, hey, they volunteered for the job, forget the salary increase and perhaps eventual bloated retirement checks.

    Remember PUBLIC SERVICE IS JUST THAT, SERVING THE PUBLIC.

    And just what ages are these Public Workers abandoning their post for an early fat check retirement, only to,pick up a 3rd check along with Social Security during their pseudo retirement…triple dipping on 3 checks.

    And the tax payer has to pay for part of that? Maybe it should be illegal to work while collecting Public Retirement checks…! Heh…?

    If you want big wages go into private business and see if your Akamai can make you the big $$$ on Kauai with a small population.

    Otherwise accept what is reasonable.

    Would the County services collapse if none of these people did OVERTIME…?

    Who can tell us that?

    Let the young police officers stand at the intersections and move the traffic and break this traffic gridlock by overtime if necessary, but at least let the Public benefit by real overtime served…a cop in the street moving traffic…not some senior employee sitting on his or her behind behind a desk…!

    Mahalo,

    Charlie


    1. Pete Antonson April 9, 2019 12:50 pm Reply

      It’s “fewer” taxpayers, not “less,” unless you want to sound like a 5th grader; or the POTUS.


      1. Charlie Chimknee April 9, 2019 9:32 pm Reply

        Mahalo Pete, thanks for the compliment, I’m actually in the 4th grade which is less than the 5th.

        But ya know I always wanted to know what a potus is…is it from fresh water or salt?


  3. CallBS April 9, 2019 7:51 pm Reply

    Call the reasons BS because they had the same talking points last year when they had another 10-14% rause. Paranchini only got the job because he was good PR for a worthless Mayor who accomplished nothing but theft during his 10 years of Failure. His best buddy failed miserably as parks and recs director and his wife covered up the gas theft ring that a lot of these people asking for raises were involved in for free fish.

    The overtime is the biggest RACKET to PAD their high 3 for RETIREMENT benefits. It’s a crminal collusion that any audit done by a third party out of state agency would easily identify with facts from previous audits and the previous administrations.

    I can’t believe how foolish they think the general public is and to take advantage of the people who are working multiple jobs and don’t have time to speak up, fight, and testify against is a shameful act. Basically this is a ludicrous explanation by the author and Ms. HERTOG. You can’t just leave out the variables that you don’t want and set up a favorable solution to pass the raises when there’s more to it. Oahu has 800K people and Kauai has 70K so you think that a person responsible of 70K people should make as much as a person responsible of 800K? That’s that new math or old math that you all been using. So with that logic, you all believe that a person who drives 700 miles a year should pay the same amount of taxes a person who drives 8,000 miles a year? Holy shiniit!!!!!! Let me sell you guys a bus shelter for 80K or photovoltaic to cool classrooms for 300K-500K Or how about a 100 million dollar bike I mean multimodal transportation path and let us not forget a 10 million plant trees and bushes in the middle of a street and trees under power lines while painting lines and call it a bike lane for 10 million plus. Wowzers!

    All that sounds a bit crazy but that’s just the facts.


  4. Wil Welsh April 9, 2019 8:28 pm Reply

    It is in herently WRONG for a sitting council or any elected official to be able to vote in their own raise. I always assumed (apparently wrongly) that raises could be recommended but not voted in until a later election cycle. What am I missing? Also, with salaries like that, I’m thinking a County job might be a good thing. One interesting “exercise” might be to compare the salaries mentioned with teaching salaries and those in other social services. Now THAT would be shocking.


  5. Kauaidoug April 10, 2019 6:53 am Reply

    How bout tying future raises to results such as fixing traffic, affordable housing, public
    park bathrooms, humane society , looking into overtime padding, recycling? Just like an employee a raise is EARNED. If someone isn’t making the money they think they should then go elsewhere.


  6. steve ball April 10, 2019 11:05 am Reply

    So by “competent” candidates, you mean “not totally corrupt”? Just asking since most of the current and past chiefs and department heads are either in jail, under indictment or on trial


  7. steve ball April 10, 2019 11:07 am Reply

    By “competent candidate” do you mean “not totally corrupt? Only because most of the current and past chiefs are either in jail, under indictment or on trial


  8. LMat April 10, 2019 11:08 am Reply

    Allan, your elitist, presumptuous sentiments always seem to subtly creep into your pieces and it’s really gross.
    Take a look at the salary amounts you just listed. Are you seriously trying to imply that someone who has “young children” would be struggling with a six figure income and would have to seek better employment and better pay…?!! I’d sure like to know how you (and the engineer you reference) would define “struggling”. Go have a chat with the single mom who works two full-time jobs and is being evicted from her affordable rental unit and maybe come back and write about “struggling”.


  9. Jan April 11, 2019 5:16 pm Reply

    Curious. Not one mention about the obscenely generous benefits for these government “workers”. Why is that? Because they are obscene?


  10. Charlie Chimknee April 11, 2019 7:17 pm Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    Just curious what is the age of the outgoing Kauai Chief of Polce? He looks kind of young to abandon us after he is set up for some kind of pension.

    Maybe retirement age shoud be like Social Security…like 72…???

    Curious 2

    Charles


  11. Joe Public April 12, 2019 10:13 am Reply

    The reason for the overtime is the mismanagement by the very ones that you are trying to give a pay raise too. The overtime is mostly caused by vacant positions. If management worked to retain and recruit, overtime could be reduced.

    But with the management style, and dishonorable way that the departments have been operating, especially the Police Department, overtime will not be reduced.

    Let the department heads prove they can make a change in the course of a year and then re-visit raises


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