‘Everything is on the table’

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Wilcox Elementary School Vice Principal Deena Fontana, right, and counselor Jonel Elia talk to Wilcox students at the County Council meeting Wednesday. The students were in attendance to learn about important decisions leaders must make.

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Kauai Police Department Acting Chief Michael Contrades, back to camera, testifies before the County Council Wednesday. Contrades read a prepared letter backing county employee pay raises to combat salary inversion. Contrades will officially retire July 1.

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Members of the county Planning Department, Planning Commission and County Council pose for a photo in recognition of the commission’s recent award for outstanding service, for which they will be recognized at the Planning Association Conference in San Fransisco on Sunday, at the Historic County Building council chambers Wednesday.

LIHUE — On the second reading of resolution 2019-1 — proposing salary increases for employees of the county and officials — the council found itself deadlocked again, with Councilmember Kipukai Kuali‘i excused from the meeting due to the flu. Without Kuali‘i, the six present councilmembers found themselves split 3-3 on the controversial resolution to grant pay raises to several county employees.

The council voted to defer the resolution until the next meeting, where the hope is to take the vote before a full council. If the council does not reach an accord on the resolution or register a vote, it will pass after the April 24 meeting due to inactivity of the council.

“I can tell you it’s gonna get messy because I don’t know if everyone is going to be able to agree on every single position,” Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro said. “We need to have it prepared on the front end. If it gets deferred, if there are no votes to move anything forward, then we may as well defer anyways. The last meeting day is the final day. If we cannot come up with a decision then, whatever is left on the floor is going to pass.”

Kaneshiro said that’s why the vote is set up the way it is, that a three minority vote doesn’t mean the resolution passes.

Along with council raises, 30 county executives, including the mayor, the managing director, the police and fire chiefs, would receive bumps in pay, under the resolution from the county’s salary commission.

The vast majority of the proposed raises — which, if approved, would take effect July 1 — are 7.6 percent, although a handful of officials are in line for larger jumps in pay. The combined average annual salary for all county officials on the list, excepting the councilmembers, is slightly over $115,000.

Councilmember Luke Evslin made a motion to reject part three of the resolution, which would give councilmembers a raise to $67,956 and the chair to $76,453. Evslin later tried to retract the motion to reject councilmember raises before the resolution was deferred. The deferral vote overrode the motion to reject council raises as the resolution is now set for a final discussion on April 24.

Councilwoman Felicia Cowden agreed with Evslin, in part, concerning county council raises.

“I feel like by having number three in there, which is the county council raises, that’s our raises, it sort of leverages,” Cowden said before Kaneshiro was quick to clarify that if the resolution passes as is, the raises would come into effect for the next council.

“That raise is going to come into effect next term,” Kaneshiro said. “So whoever wins the county council race next term, that’s who is going to get the raises. We cannot increase our rates today, tomorrow, or any day.”

Cowden said it’s “heavy leverage” to tie all the raises together.

“I don’t think there’s a single one of us sitting at the table that would vote thumbs up to do the raises for the county council position,” Cowden said. “When we tie them all together, it causes us to not support these other critical positions that really need to have true analysis done, so I feel by forcing them all together, it’s not an authentic (resolution).”

Kaneshiro clarified his intent for the next meeting after Cowden expressed concern.

“At the next meeting, everything is on the table,” Kaneshiro said. “If they want to reject just council salaries, we will have everybody vote on just rejecting council salaries.”

Councilmember Ross Kagawa suggested the resolution go back before the salary commission.

“I’ve never seen any important vote win by a minority decision,” Kagawa said. “That’s so undemocratic. It just baffles me as far as how this thing is set up where a minority vote wins. It’s like some third world country.”

Kaneshiro said he thinks the intent of the charter is to make it difficult for the council to reject.

“I think that’s why the minority vote is there,” Kaneshiro said. “I think that’s why the deadline is there. If we cannot come to a decision it automatically passes.”

Several people testified on the issue, including Acting Police Chief Michael Contrades, who prepared a written letter for the council as to why he believes the raises should be approved by the council. In total, four people, some of them past high ranking county officials, expressed their support of passing the resolution.

“I intend to retire effective July 1, 2019,” Contrades said. “Knowing this, I did not apply for the position of chief of police. It’s something I’ve aspired to for many years.”

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