Water Board awards top DWS officials with raises

  • Department of Water Supply Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto talks about the broken wells at a community forum in July at the West Hawaii Civic Center. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto and Deputy Kawika Uyehara of the Hawaii County Department of Water Supply both received pay raises after what was arguably the department’s most tumultuous year in recent memory.

DWS spokesperson Kaiulani Matsumoto confirmed the Hawaii County Water Board at its first meeting of the year Tuesday approved 8 percent raises for each man, which were retroactively applied to take effect as of Jan. 1.

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Water Board Chairman Craig Takamine said Okamoto earned around $121,000 last year, while Uyehara pulled down roughly $110,000.

The board reviewed the salaries of other industry employees across Hawaii to help determine applicable raises, but Takamine said the decision was actually tied more to each man’s performance during a difficult year plagued by deep well equipment failures across the North Kona region.

“It’s well-documented what happened in 2017 in North Kona, but what a lot of folks don’t see is what these guys do behind the scenes,” said Takamine, noting the long hours and taxing nature of the jobs. “We did an evaluation late last year … and they actually scored really well. They had high marks on the board. We feel like they’re doing a great job.”

Customers in North Kona spent 362 consecutive days under a mandatory water usage restriction from January 2017-January 2018, which at its most modest called for a 25 percent consumption reduction and at its harshest called for a halt on all non-commercial irrigation, limiting residential water use to basic necessities of life and hygiene only.

The restriction was downgraded to a 10 percent voluntary conservation on Jan. 9.

Perhaps a low point for DWS came in October, when Okamoto declined to inform the public that two deep wells fell offline only days before the Ironman World Championship, which draws tens of thousands of visitors to Kailua-Kona. The failures brought the number of offline wells up from two to four. It was a decision Mayor Harry Kim said publicly he didn’t support.

The department didn’t disclose the information on the two well malfunctions for almost a month, doing so only after a West Hawaii Today inquiry on the matter.

Still, Takamine praised DWS officials over the course of the crisis, commending them for keeping water flowing to all North Kona accounts despite setbacks that left five of the region’s 13 water sources simultaneously inoperative on two separate occasions.

When asked if the Water Board considered forgoing raises for DWS brass after discussing public perception around the situation in North Kona, Takamine stood resolute behind the value he said Okamoto and Uyehara provide the department.

“I think there are folks that may have thought that, but we also had to consider what their value is to the department,” he explained. “I think we just really tried to be fair, and I think 8 percent is fair.”

Takamine said after applying the raises to current salaries, the highest paid civil servant within DWS is paid only $1,000-$2,000 less annually than Okamoto and still makes more than Uyehara.

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“The Deputy is getting paid much less than an employee that he manages,” Takamine said.

Okamoto didn’t return a message seeking comment as of press time on Tuesday.

  1. golfpunk500 January 24, 2018 3:57 am

    Pay raise? What for? These people should get a pay cut that reflects the consecutive days under a mandatory water usage restriction. If we’re supposed to cut our water usage 25% then they get a 25% cut. Only if they can keep the water on for three years without the usage restriction should they get a raise.


  2. Pest Outwest January 24, 2018 5:33 am

    Gee, what a shock. It’s barely news in this state when someone screws up their job as bad as you can imagine, is not fired, and then is given a raise. Just normality.


  3. NevahHappen January 24, 2018 7:00 am

    As Gomer Pyle would say:

    “Surprise, surprise!”

    Seems we predicted this way back when they were fumbling around like the Three Stooges.


  4. fishman2 January 24, 2018 7:10 am

    This is disgusting.


  5. KonaLife January 24, 2018 7:44 am

    Wow! They worked so hard fixing the massive problems that happened when they were in charge. It seems as if they should have had a better maintenance plan, reserve pumps on hand, better systems to make repairs expediently or, perhaps, all of the above. Then they obfuscate and hide the problems during Ironman. For these reasons they should get a pay cut, be assigned to additional education/training or be demoted. That’s what would happen in the private sector. Instead, they get rewarded for their “long hours and taxing nature of their jobs.” Screw up, work to fix your mess, and get a raise!


  6. Buds4All January 24, 2018 8:23 am

    They should be watching over their shoulders every corner they go around and sleep with one eye open. This is outrageous!


  7. Buds4All January 24, 2018 8:55 am

    Well this makes me feel all that much better “Takamine said after applying the raises to current salaries, the highest paid civil servant within DWS is paid only $1,000-$2,000 less annually than Okamoto and still makes more than Uyehara.”


  8. Buds4All January 24, 2018 8:55 am

    Also…Performance is not acceptable when your dropping pumps down wells?


  9. DaObserver January 24, 2018 9:32 am

    Maybe in order to justify the pay raises, they should change the name of the organization to the DEPARTMENT OF NO RELIABLE WATER SUPPLY. Then, who could argue that the leadership wouldn’t be earning every dime they get?


  10. diverdave January 24, 2018 10:52 am

    This is what happens when there is only one party running everything. The Legal Mafia.
    NO accountability to the taxpayer.
    Raises for everyone, regardless of job performance.
    Crazy unfunded pension schemes that the tax payer is on the hook for!
    Absolutely no shame.


  11. Anagram January 24, 2018 12:36 pm

    Keith Okomoto should have been FIRED! Only in Hawaii you can literally “F up” and still retain your position. smfh


  12. Renee Schofield January 24, 2018 12:47 pm

    I completely support pay increases for performance. I realize this past year was hard for staff. However, it was most difficult for the customer and the visitor. If you polled those folks, you would have a much different answer. I completely feel that I have been lied to, misled, and information not disclosed in a timely manner. When one works in a very public environment, the transparency and communication is a very real requirement. That didn’t happen. It’s disappointing, as your ratepayer, to see this 8% pay increase for performance come about. While I am not privy to the HR side of it, from the ratepayer viewpoint, it should not have been awarded.


    1. KonaRich January 24, 2018 4:32 pm

      I agree a raise for great performance should be a criteria, but they seem to hand out the raises because the lowly union worker are doing better than they are. So do you see a pattern here, the union worker get a big raise , now the bosses need one, and on and on and on. Up goes your GET, property taxes, gas taxes and any fee you can think of.


  13. Brew January 24, 2018 1:25 pm

    Are you kidding me? The raises should go towards someone removing the pump that fell down a well and back above ground. This is a joke people!!!


  14. metalman808 January 24, 2018 2:17 pm

    It’s getting like Syria. The government screwing the people over and taking their money. And now they want to raise the general excise tax to pay for all their raises. I guess their trying to cause riots in the streets. Time for the Hawaiians to take back control. Hawaii the Japanese piggy bank.


  15. LimeyinHi January 24, 2018 5:30 pm

    Imagine $2,500 every week and totally screwing up your job. Hilo rules as always, we are just the cash cow that pays them for pathetic service….Time for a divorce.


  16. sdmytrenko1 January 24, 2018 5:30 pm

    I was expecting them to be fired for their inability to get the wells operating. Wow!


  17. Don Hurzeler January 24, 2018 9:42 pm

    Seriously…a raise? Worked hard behind the scenes? What about results? Not only did our water department folks screw this up beyond all imagination, they thought so little of you and me that they didn’t even tell us about some of the significant problems going on. These are the things that get people fired…on the spot. I love living here, but this idea that you can say you’re sorry and then everything is ok and life goes on and you get a raise…crazy. The only three things worse than the water mess is the rail debacle, the telescope debacle and the total incompetence displayed by all those involved in the ballistic missile warning (sorry…we can’t name them but they will not do it again). Oh…let’s add the lifetime project ongoing to widen our highway past the airport in Kona and the building of a massively expensive court house in Kona when what we really need is a great hospital and lower taxes. Good grief.


  18. Jef Kona January 28, 2018 10:11 am

    This raise is unbelievable. Is this why they cant standardize the pumps in the wells cause the salaries are too high, isn’t there any over sight on the water department. I have asked Nicloe Lowen to look into this, but don’t expect much! What duties cold be worth $130K/year to someone who is secretive(not disclosing failure to Public for a month)? Did Harry Kim know about the pump failure, it says he disagreed with keeping this secret, which implies to me he knew about it! Why dint he disclose it? WE pay their salarie with our high water bills, What gong on here? Jef Kona


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