Salary Commission chairman calls it quits

  • Salary Commission hears from Finance Director Deanna Sako and Real Property Tax Administrator Lisa Miura on Sept. 17 in Hilo. Commissioners left to right, George Campbell, Jim Higgins, Milton Pavao, Human Resources Director Bill Brilhante, Deputy Corporation Counsel Amy Self, Chairman Hugh Ono, Vice Chairwoman Florence Ikeda, Harold Dow, Thomas Fratinardo and Nelson Harano. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Salary Commission Chairman Hugh Ono, who led the board through double-digit raises for county elected officials and department heads, resigned Tuesday.

Ono didn’t elaborate on why he’s decided to leave two years before his term ends, other than to say it’s for personal reasons and he’s not ill. He’d planned his resignation before the meeting and included it on the agenda.

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“I am in a situation that doesn’t lend itself positively to this position,” Ono said.

The commission named George Campbell the new chairman and Tom Fratinardo vice chairman. Ono’s resignation will leave the nine-member board at six, with Dr. Harold Dow’s term ending Dec. 31 and the District 9 seat vacant.

Ono praised the volunteer board for its work, adding he enjoyed his time on the commission and appreciated how well everyone worked together.

“It was a privilege working with you guys,” Ono told the board. “We really are a good commission.”

The commission has also fielded its share of criticism after approving raises of 30 percent and more for some officials. Commissioners justified the pay hikes, noting some positions hadn’t seen raises in almost 10 years, while others went without increases for five.

The latest round of raises took many in the public aback, sending them to their council representatives with complaints about a lack of transparency in the process. The Salary Commission meetings comply with Sunshine Law notice requirements about the time and location of the meeting, but salary recommendations were usually handed out at the beginning of the meeting and voted on the same day.

A charter amendment sponsored by Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and approved Nov. 6 by 82 percent of voters adds more transparency to the process, requiring the Salary Commission to give the public 30 days’ notice before adopting pay increases, by publishing the notice in the island’s newspapers and providing for public inspection a detailed report of its findings and conclusions.

In addition, the commission must hold a public hearing on either the east or west side of the island, with videoconference participation on the other side. The amendment also requires a two-thirds commission vote of any salary increase or decrease of more than 10 percent.

Ono, who’d been outspoken in his criticism of the charter amendment, found himself questioned personally as well, because he works for a company that benefits from county business. As lead engineer and vice president of the consulting group SSFM, Ono has a hand in no-bid six-digit consulting work from the county.

Ono said last month he didn’t think the two roles caused a conflict of interest.

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In other business Tuesday, the commission rejected a measure that would have allowed top officials such as department heads and deputies to draw overtime during emergencies such as disaster response.

And, it laid out a timeframe and factors that should be considered for the next round of raises. The process is expected to roll out with new rules that are themselves subject to a public hearing.