Commission stands by raises; questions scrutiny

  • Sue Lee Loy

HILO — The county Salary Commission stands by the big raises it doled out to county officials, and this week voted to oppose a charter amendment opening its process to greater public scrutiny.

Commissioner James Higgins called the measure, “the Sunshine Law on steroids.”


The commission, at a meeting Wednesday, voted unanimously to oppose the charter amendment, giving Chairman Hugh Ono authority to speak to the council on behalf of the commission.

Many commissioners seemed to take the proposal personally, asking what gives the council the right to oversee their work.

“Aren’t we here because they want to keep it out of the political realm?” asked Commissioner Thomas Fratinardo. “There’s no backroom deals going on. Our integrity is above reproach.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel Amy Self cautioned board members not to take Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy’s Bill 98 personally.

“It’s not something you did wrong. In fact, you should be applauded for doing your job,” Self said. “Everything was done in public view.”

The commission in the past three months gave double-digit raises to top county administrators as well as the mayor and County Council members. It based decisions about raises as high as 40 percent on the length of time since the last raise, whether subordinates were making more than their bosses and by comparing salaries with Maui and Oahu.

The raises, which including benefits added more than $1.3 million annually to the budget, have been met with public criticism, especially coming at the same time the mayor and council are mulling a half-cent surcharge on the general excise tax. Salaries come mostly from property tax revenue.

In response, Lee Loy offered the charter amendment that is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday. The council Finance Committee meets at 9 a.m. at the West Hawaii Civic Center, with videoconferencing to Hilo council chambers, the Pahoa and Waimea council offices, old Kohala courthouse and Naalehu state office building.

Lee Loy’s proposed amendment slows down the approval process to provide safeguards for the public by requiring, at least 30 days prior to the approval of any salary adjustment, public notice of the proposals in at least two daily newspapers in the county, a public hearing videoconferenced so both east and west Hawaii residents can participate and a “detailed report” of how the commission reached its recommendations, which would be open for public inspection.

In addition, any proposed increase or decrease of more than 10 percent would be subject to a two-thirds affirmative vote of the entire membership of the commission.

“The Salary Commission is the only commission that directly impacts the county’s operating budget,” Lee Loy said Friday. “This ballot initiative provides a framework for the public to engage with future salary commissions and provide them meaningful comments on increases, similar to the way the council makes adjustments to the real property tax or the fuel tax.”

If approved by the council in three hearings by at least a two-thirds vote of the membership, the measure would proceed to the general election ballot for a public vote.

“I’m looking forward to the discussion with Mr. Ono and other members of the commission, and I trust that whatever emerges can be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide,” Lee Loy added.

Salary Commission meetings are open to the public and notice of the meetings are posted on county bulletin boards and online. But, other than individuals lobbying for specific raises for various departments, there has been little public input in the process.

Recent raise proposals were provided at the commission meeting the same day as the vote, leaving little opportunity for advance notice to the public.

The Corporation Counsel, the top civil attorney, will see a $42,982 raise from $110,244 to $153,226 annually, a 39 percent increase. The prosecuting attorney, an elected position charged with enforcing state and local laws, will get a $39,646 raise from $113,580 to $153,226, a 35 percent increase.

The mayor’s salary increases by $33,000 — 25 percent — to $165,000.


The County Council chairman will get a 32.8 percent raise to $77,017, and other County Council members will get 34.6 percent more, to $70,008. The county clerk, legislative auditor and other positions also received raises.

The mayor and many top administrators last got raises in 2014, while others haven’t seen a raise in almost 10 years.

  1. LOL in Kona February 18, 2018 6:55 am

    They have their fingers in the pie so they “need” a bigger piece!
    ….and YOU shouldn’t watch them feather their nest!

    It is a hard job and they deserve their
    …cushy salary, big-cushy pension, cushy medical, cushy, cushy, cushy,
    that YOU pay for
    …. (while they bribe loafers, leeches, and durggies to keep quiet)

  2. Scooby February 18, 2018 7:30 am

    What is not being written by Nancy Cook Lauer is Amy Self, due to the $42000 raise Joe got, and all the other useless county attorney’s are in line for large raises. That increase would require Harry Kim’s approval…lets see if Harry the liar will approve raises for them while increasing our taxes!

  3. jim williams February 18, 2018 7:34 am

    This lovely state , and the Big Island in particular is run like a third world banana republic with back room deals, cronyism and nepotism being an accepted way to do business. Wake up people! It’s way past time to stop the one party rule that has plagued Hawaii’s political landscape for decades. We must vote in fiscal conservatives and stop the Hui from running the Sate into financial oblivion.

  4. joedriver February 18, 2018 7:34 am

    So the mayor now makes more than the Honolulu mayor, for doing what? Give me a break he isn’t qualified to earn a third of that pay by any means.

    1. Chickie Galore February 19, 2018 7:07 am

      Yes and have you noticed since Billy’s term ended, the county workers are back to being rude and inefficient to say the least.

  5. joedriver February 18, 2018 7:36 am

    Our integrity is above reproach.” right! Sounds like Trump talking.

    1. Say What? February 18, 2018 7:54 am

      Except it isn’t Trump, it’s the island gang of Democrats. You can’t point out their cronyism and malfeasance without a shot at Trump, too? Sad.

    2. KonaRich February 19, 2018 7:39 pm

      Hate is a hard thing to maintain, so get over Trump you’ ll sleep better. He’s really not that bad

  6. Russell G February 18, 2018 8:41 am

    No group of volunteer commissioners should be able to add $1.3 million to our county budget without some check and balance.

    1. Scooby February 18, 2018 8:51 am

      Obviously Fratinardo thinks he has a blank check to hand out raises to political appointees with no regard for who or how to pay for it? That statement alone should should get him removed!

    2. Pest Outwest February 19, 2018 3:47 am

      Yes, sniff sniff, we’re above “scrutiny”. I got news for you pal, we’ll scrutin all we like. Many of the individuals who received raises were involved in one or more of the ludicrous scandals and incompetence this past year, and not only should they not have received raises, they should have been fired. Add these aristrocrats to the list.

    3. onceawarrior February 19, 2018 4:28 pm

      Yes. A compensation commission should be balanced by a performance commission!

  7. Rusty Da Clown February 18, 2018 11:27 am

    Crazy that the salary commission has free reign to run up the budget with no incentive to control the costs. Crazy.

    1. KonaRich February 19, 2018 7:14 pm

      You may be safe to say the salary commission personal was a benifactor of these raises

  8. Servite Omak February 18, 2018 4:47 pm

    transparency from the Land of Obama, LOL typical crooked politicians and bureacrats ALL Democrats too! so have fun paying your higher sales taxes and property taxes and electrical bill taxes and water bill taxes, etc,etc,etc hahahaha

  9. Buds4All February 18, 2018 5:33 pm

    No Accountability! Sleep with one eye open thieves!

  10. wahineilikea February 18, 2018 5:55 pm

    This is the phrase that caught my attention: “individuals lobbying for specific raises for various departments” . . .

    Say WHAT??? This volunteer commission gets LOBBIED by special interests? Before this, I thought it was mainly an issue of lack of checks and balances and the fact that commission was allowed to operate outside of any budgetary restrictions. That’s bad enough – but when you get lobbyists involved, we’d better find out a whole lot more about this lobbying and how it goes down. This info just upped the potential corruption factor a lot.

    1. Scooby February 18, 2018 7:07 pm

      In the past Joe Kamelamela and Darren Rosario testified in front of the commission for raises. I believe one of the articles said attorneys testified for raises this time around.

  11. paul February 18, 2018 6:21 pm

    fire this dam corrupt group of commissionars….put all raises to any government worker to a vote of the people..its that simple…the people pay their salary,the people vote ..yes or no

  12. paul February 18, 2018 6:23 pm

    integrity???????very very dam few have this rare quality!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. briala February 18, 2018 6:34 pm

    Anyone know how these commissioners are appointed, and/or how they can be removed?

  14. KonaDude February 19, 2018 12:22 am

    It’s always easy to spend other peoples money!!

  15. Ah Cmon! February 19, 2018 5:33 am

    This Charter amendment seems like a good fix to the current process of salary determination for executive and elected officials. The commission’s reaction seems to be driven by bruised egos. Commissioners: don’t take this amendment as judgement that any of you did something wrong. Remember guys and gal, you’re their to serve the people of Hawaii. If you can’t embrace this amendment, either make recommendations to improve the process or resign from the commission. Status quo is unacceptable.

    1. KonaRich February 19, 2018 7:20 pm

      BRUISED EGOS. The deal is done. Tax payers got nothing out of this deal, what so ever.

  16. Chickie Galore February 19, 2018 7:06 am

    Ha Ha. What a joke. We live in a mini banana republic.

  17. Big ideas February 19, 2018 11:02 am

    Scrutiny = public right to know!

  18. KonaRich February 19, 2018 8:02 pm

    Commissioner Thomas Fratinardo said ” There’s no back room deals going on. Our integrity is above reproach”.
    Reminds me of the time in the back seat of my 59 Ford, when I told my girl friend at the time, trust me, if it hurts ,I’ll pull it out.

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