Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Kauai voices concerns
about civil service plan

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- State Human Resources Director Mike McCartney came to listen to the Kauai County Council's opinions on what direction Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposed civil service reform package should take.

What he heard yesterday was a lot of skepticism on his boss's ability to work with the state Senate.

And, even if he could, there was doubt the concerns of the state's smallest county in terms of population would be visible in the final product.

It was McCartney's first visit with any county council on this project. He noted Hawaii is the only state with a single civil service system that covers all levels of government, and it hasn't been updated for 60 years.

Council Chairman Ron Kouchi jumped in immediately and asked whether there is any point in the exercise with the governor and the Senate leadership so deeply divided at the end of this year's session.

"There are some problems you've been having at the Senate that need to be ironed out," he told McCartney.

"We're on the path to cooling off and talking. We've been talking to the senators," McCartney replied.

"I would like to see the Senate president with you at these meetings," said Councilman Billy Swain, a former House member. "Give me some assurance the Legislature is going to look at this seriously."

It was clear the raised eyebrows McCartney was receiving came from the Council's experience three years ago when it jumped aboard Cayetano's economic recovery train -- only to find the county left with a huge cut in room-tax revenues and no way to replace them but to raise property taxes.

And the Council members repeated a long-held fear that populous Oahu will dictate the terms of any statewide civil service reform.

All but one of the Kauai Council members oppose autonomy -- the replacement term for home rule -- when it comes to union negotiations. If the state and each county bargained for separate contracts, Kauai would never be able to afford to compete for the best government employees, they said.

McCartney said many different combinations -- such as letting neighbor island counties negotiate separately from Oahu -- are being considered.

The opinion appeared unanimous among Council members that whatever new structure emerges it must be based on merit so that hard-working employees get bigger raises than those who barely perform.

And the system has to prohibit the writing of job qualifications aimed at hiring specific individuals, they said.

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