HILO — Former Salary Commission Chairman Hugh Ono had a novel idea Thursday for the commission: Why not disband?
“I’m beginning to believe the County of Hawaii can do without the Salary Commission,” Ono, testifying as a member of the public, told his former colleagues. “Everything is in place.”
Ono said the work the commission has completed provides a process for the Department of Human Resources to recommend salary levels, with public participation possible when the County Council sets the budget. The HR director is hired by the Merit Appeals Board, whose members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, providing another layer of separation from those receiving the raises.
Since the Salary Commission is codified in the county charter, it would take a ballot amendment to do away with it.
The Charter Commission, however, seems inclined to want to keep the current process intact. At its Jan. 11 meeting, it voted 5-6, killing an amendment that would have given the County Council and mayor power to reject salaries set by the commission.
The Salary Commission was created as a way to keep politics out the process. But double-digit raises doled out in late 2017 with little public notice inspired a County Council charter amendment approved by voters in November that requires more public scrutiny before raises are approved.
Salary Commission members Thursday slowed the process even further, setting into place a series of steps that includes getting information about county finances and economic trends from the Finance Department and bringing in private-sector groups such as the chambers of commerce and bar associations to obtain information on comparable private-sector salaries.
“We recently gave huge raises to catch up,” said Commissioner Milton Pavao. “I think before we give any more raises, we should really understand the county’s financial situation. … It’s nice to give raises and there’s no question in my mind that they deserve it, but I can’t see us giving raises to the detriment of the county itself.”
Chairman George Campbell said the commission will consider Ono’s suggestion at a future meeting, although he thinks the commission serves an important function.
“Although it’s not required that we look at finances, we take it very seriously,” Campbell said. “That’s something the commission takes very seriously as commissioners and as taxpayers.”
The commission plans a public hearing at 10 a.m. March 7 on its new rules, incorporating charter amendment requirements of more public notice and a process the commission will follow as it sets future salaries. The meeting will be held in Hilo council chambers, with videoconferencing to the West Hawaii Civic Center.