By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
While almost the entire county government, from Mayor Billy Kenoi to legislative clerical staff, took furloughs or pay cuts last fiscal year to help balance a tight county budget, six incoming County Council members opted out.
The resulting $7,755 budget overrun was made up by delaying the hiring of a legal specialist for the council, Council Chairman J Yoshimoto said.
Furloughs ended June 30, after four years that first saw twice-monthly furloughs and then monthly furloughs as the county tried to keep its budget in check without having to resort to stiff tax increases. Furloughs were part of union contracts for rank-and-file workers except for police, fire, lifeguards and other critical 24/7 workers such as sewer plant operators.
Council members, Kenoi’s Cabinet and executive staff not subject to union contracts took unpaid furlough days, or in the past two years of monthly furloughs, 4.615 percent pay cuts.
“It was the right thing to do,” Kenoi said Tuesday. “It was a challenging environment and we had to lead by example.”
But six freshman council members — Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, Puna Councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Zendo Kern, Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille — did not sign up for the voluntary program when they took office in December, according to County Clerk Stewart Maeda.
The previous council had discussed and agreed to take the furlough pay cut. Incumbents Yoshimoto and Councilman Dennis Onishi, both from Hilo, and South Kona/Ka‘u Coucilwoman Brenda Ford continued their pay cuts into the new council session.
The newest council members, while not part of the discussion, were sent memos Dec. 14 informing them of the program and asking them to take part.
Until recently, Yoshimoto was not aware they had not.
“I’m disappointed that they didn’t, but it’s their own decision to make,” Yoshimoto said. “I don’t think they understood the significance of it. … But I can’t speculate as to what their reasons were for not doing it.”
Several council members said they don’t remember being asked. They said there was a great deal of paperwork to fill out on becoming a council member, and it could be the memo was overlooked.
“I thought I had taken it when I signed on,” Poindexter said. “We had so much paperwork coming at us at that one time.”
Poindexter said she had taken a furlough pay cut in her previous position at the nonprofit Hamakua Health Center.
Eoff also said she thought she had signed up for the furlough pay cut, but upon reflection, said she might have gotten confused because she filled out the paperwork for her predecessor, Angel Pilago, for whom she served as council aide.
Kern also didn’t specifically recall the December request, but he said he would have been unlikely to sign up for the furlough pay cut.
“I probably would not have,” Kern said. “I’m making the council my full-time job, and I wouldn’t want to have to be looking for other work. I just want to keep my focus on the council.”
Asked what kind of message that sent to staff working for him, Kern replied, “I think the staff needs a pay raise.”
Ilagan and Kanuha did not return phone calls by press time Tuesday.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.