DWS brass awarded salary bumps

  • Representatives from the Department of Water Supply Kurt Inaba, left, Clyde Young, Mayor Harry Kim, Keith Okomoto and Kawika Uyehara answer questions from the audience after their presentations at a community forum Thursday evening at the West Hawaii Civic Center. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Keith Okamoto

KAILUA-KONA — The two top officials at Hawaii County’s Department of Water Supply received pay raises Tuesday after a performance evaluation by the Water Board during its last meeting of the calendar year.

DWS Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto made just over $130,000 in 2018 and will receive a roughly 5 percent bump, said outgoing Water Board Chair Craig Takamine. The increase will put Okamoto’s salary in the $137,000 range.


The board also lifted DWS Deputy Kawika Uyehara’s salary to reflect a total equivalent to 95 percent of Okamoto’s take-home pay, meaning Uyehara will clear right around $130,000 in 2019.

“We feel the new salaries we put in place today are very fair for not only the industry standard but the demands of those positions on Hawaii Island,” Takamine said.

Salary concerns for all public positions generally include keeping the numbers competitive so as to attract quality candidates when current occupants of the jobs decide to retire, resign or are relieved of their duties.

Takamine said, however, the raises handed out to Okamoto and Uyehara Tuesday were a reflection of both the difficulty of the positions and how well the two men performed in the face of challenging tasks.

“They need to preform at a high level, but you know it’s a very demanding position. Regardless of which island you’re on, it’s a very tough job and its a 24-hour job,” Takamine said. “They had an excellent review. They performed at a very high level.”

Both men received 8 percent raises in January, bringing Okamoto’s pay up from around $121,000 in 2017 to roughly $130,000 and Uyehara’s salary from about $110,000 to just under $119,000.

The board doled out those pay increases following one of the most tumultuous years in DWS history.

Of the department’s then 13 water sources in North Kona, five were simultaneously inoperative on two different occasions in 2017. Customers in the district spent a total of 362 consecutive days under either a mandatory 25 percent water restriction, or the same restriction accompanied by a mandatory halt on all non-commercial irrigation and the limiting of residential water usage to drinking, cooking and hygiene purposes only.

DWS, which added a 14th water source over the last year, was down four deep wells as of late November. However, Takamine said he believed the department either brought one of those four sources back online Monday or would do so in the near future.

Officials at DWS didn’t return a call for comment as of press time Tuesday, but it’s likely the Honokohau Deep Well is the functioning or soon-to-be-functioning water source. Officials said in November that repairs at Honokohau were underway and projected it may be pumping water as soon as early January.

Takamine, who will leave the board in less than two weeks after four years of service, said he believes the department to be in considerably better shape than it was a year and a half ago at the height of its struggles.


“I think they’re in a much better position now. Obviously, we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Takamine said. “The leadership in the department has done a great job coming out of that rough patch. … It’s good to get past a lot of things that happened in 2017 and look forward to becoming a lot better in the future. And I think they’re well on their way.”

Replacing Takamine as Water Board chair is current vice chair William Boswell Jr. Taking Boswell’s place as vice chair will be Eric Scicchitano. Both men have board terms that run until the final day of 2021.

  1. KonaDude December 19, 2018 3:27 am

    The salaries might reflect the job demands but don’t seem match the performance ( . Y . )

  2. Scooby December 19, 2018 4:45 am


  3. sdmytrenko1 December 19, 2018 6:46 am

    take the pay raises and use it to fix the wells….

  4. Colin12345 December 19, 2018 6:47 am

    It’s critically important to separate views about the priorities and effectiveness of a particular individual from views about how big a salary is necessary to REPLACE that individual with someone even better (or equally as good in most cases). That’s what this is all about: what if we have to hire a replacement now? Salaries below what highly competent management-caliber people are willing to work for only ensure that the mediocre remain in place and better people don’t make themselves known.

    Whether or not the Mayor, or some appointing-powered commission, should replace a particular manager (department head) is a completely separate issue that, when mixed as many people are doing here with the Water Dept. issue, only serves to keep salary levels too low to get the quality of executive skill that we want all our department heads to have.

    Although it’s a moot point now, I’ll say that given the level of new water capacity and distribution immediately and perhaps forever needed in North Kona, and soon enough to increase significantly islandwide, the salary level we just approved, for this little County out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is far below what’s really needed to attract the kind of no-nonsense, systems-oriented, solutions-experienced engineer Hawaii County needs to map out and deliver the reliable future this island needs.

    1. Don Hurzeler December 19, 2018 6:55 am

      I have no problem with the pay…just who it is being paid to. Get top talent and pay the price…worth every penny. Don’t pay the price to poor talent and think that they will all of a sudden do a great job…does not work that way. I agree with your entire post.

    2. briala December 19, 2018 7:18 pm

      You know what’s even more important to recruiting and keeping high quality talent? Having them respect their would-be peers as people they’re willing to bet their career on.

      If a serious DWS management shake up had occurred, and then been accompanied by raises needed to obtain competent replacements, I’d be all in favor. But without that shake up, that high quality talent is not likely to consider the job at any salary offer. Who would want to take a job that appears to come with no ability to make any changes, certainly not in personnel, no matter how poor the results?

      Not that it matters anyway since there are apparently no top-level jobs open now or anticipated anyway. I guess the need for 25% water rationing for nearly a year was not deemed serious enough.

      1. Colin12345 December 20, 2018 7:55 am

        Excellent points. But I would argue that there is capacity to make operational changes in this – any perhaps any – County operation. We are certainly on the brink of it (at least, lol) with the County’s Mass Transit Agency. I agree it’s extremely difficult, and I think you’ve identified one key obstacle to hiring the necessary management for this and many other County operations in this idyllic rural social “backwater” which we live in. BUT, I am certain that it’s possible if we can hit salary levels that can draw people from the continental U.S. as operations leaders (decision-makers, department heads). I don’t pretend to know whether that means $10,000 or $80,000 more annually than the $138,000 for DWS (and Planning and Public Works, I think), but I’m pretty sure it’s at the top end of my guesstimate. For 10 departments (just picking a number) that’s $1 Million more annually. Rhetorically: should we afford this (not can we, we can)? Should we close the Hilo (excuse me, County) Zoo to get that $1M? There are choices.
        To me, the hiring key is to get and keep talent that’s been trained and experienced outside of this little, provincially-minded State. You’re right about the work environment and structural factors, but I do think much better pay may bring some change that’s worth our common expense.

  5. Don Hurzeler December 19, 2018 6:51 am

    Sometimes I wonder if this is Alice in Wonderland. Two hefty pay raises to people directly involved in the utter chaos and disfunction of the water shortages from 2017 and continuing? Reminds me of a great Tommy Lasorda (ex-Dodger manager) quote regarding a highly paid pitcher that he was lambasting for not performing well. The pitcher could not take it any longer and confronted Lasorda. The pitcher said he was the hardest working pitcher on the staff…putting in countless hours during the season and off season. Lasorda replied…and I am going by memory on this and may be off a bit…”We don’t pay you to work hard…we pay you to win games.” You can pat someone on the back for working hard…but a pay raise…now two pay raises…for amateur hour performance…never. If anyone thinks that the water debacle in our home town was a success in 2017 and into 2018…I recommend you go back and read the stories about lack of proper maintenance, lack of inspection, failure to have back up parts in place and the always amusing, ( except we were unable to smile through our parched lips), time that these geniuses dropped the new part down the well and lost it while being interviewed by the media. This is why we no longer trust our politicians…they either have very bad judgement or combine to protect and enrich each other no matter what the tax payers might think or experience. Shame on them.

  6. guest December 19, 2018 9:56 am

    They keep giving raises to incompetent people who continue to cost us more money. Get competent people, pay them and it will result in savings and reliable water service too!

  7. Bob December 19, 2018 3:43 pm

    The whole state government is incompetent. That is a result of a one party operation!

  8. paul December 19, 2018 5:29 pm


  9. paul December 19, 2018 5:30 pm

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…fire them…get the wells fixed…..

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