Saturday, October 2, 1999

How much should
Bishop trustees get?

Bullet The issue: A court-appointed committee has recommended that the annual compensation of Bishop Estate trustees be capped at $97,500, with the chairman of the board limited to $120,000.
Bullet Our view: Compensation should be high enough to emphasize the importance of the trustees' role but not so high as to make the position attractive as a reward for politicians.

THERE was widespread agreement in the community that the former trustees of the Bishop Estate, who in recent years were receiving as much as $1 million a year, were grossly overcompensated. However, now that a decision has to be made regarding the compensation of future trustees, there are considerable differences of opinion.

A court-appointed Trustee Compensation Committee recommends that the annual compensation be capped at $97,500, with the chairman of the board limited to $120,000.

Although these figures are dramatically lower than the compensation accepted by the former trustees, they are higher than those of the committee's own consulting firm. It recommended a cap of $100,000 for the chairman and $50,000 for individual trustees in the first year of service followed by $75,000 for the chairman and $37,500 for individual trustees in the second year.

The state Attorney General's Office, meanwhile, recommends that the trustees receive no pay. Its consulting firm said trustees' service should be voluntary and it is not necessary to pay a retainer to attract qualified trustees.

The Internal Revenue Service, in the preliminary findings of its four-year audit, said the former trustees should have received between $60,000 and $158,000 for the 1990-1996 period.

A member of the court-appointed committee, Mike Rawlins, said the committee felt its consulting firm didn't take into consideration the importance of the trustees' positions. In addition, he said, the committee believed that the recommended compensation levels will help attract qualified candidates for trustee.

A major difference between the position of the former trustees and future ones is that the Bishop Estate will have a chief executive officer who will manage the affairs of the estate on a daily basis, contrary to the previous practice. This means the responsibilities of future trustees will be limited to policymaking, mainly at scheduled board meetings, which should require much less of their time. Hence there is every reason for a sharp reduction in compensation.

Obviously there is a considerable difference between $100,000 and zero. Our feeling is that reasonable compensation would lie somewhere in the middle -- enough to underline the importance of the task of the trustees of this unique institution but not enough to continue to be a lucrative reward for the political establishment.


Nuclear energy
accident in Japan

Bullet The issue: An accident at a uranium fuel processing plant in Japan injured three workers and exposed dozens to radiation.
Bullet Our view: The accident should prompt strengthening of safety precautions.

THE accident Thursday at a uranium fuel processing plant was the most serious in the history of Japan's use of nuclear energy but fell far short of the magnitude of a disaster comparable to the 1986 Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine.

Reaction to the accident should not be a hysterical rejection of nuclear power. Although the accident has shaken confidence in the safety of nuclear energy, the government of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi plans to proceed with its nuclear program while pledging to improve its performance on safety.

Japan relies on nuclear energy for one-third of its electric power generation, and plans to expand the nuclear industry. By comparison, in the United States nuclear power generates about 20 percent of electricity.

The accident, which was caused by a mistake in mixing uranium with nitric acid to make fuel for a nuclear power plant, seriously injured three workers and exposed nearly 50 more to radiation.

However, radiation levels in the surrounding area 70 miles northeast of Tokyo quickly returned to normal and the government lifted an order telling more than 300,000 residents to stay indoors.

The accident could serve as a wakeup call to the need for more attention to safety issues. A government spokesman admitted that Tokyo's response to the accident was slow and flawed. Police are investigating whether criminal negligence was involved.

American experts said the accident involved a well-known phenomenon that should have been prevented. They said it is unlikely to occur in the United States, because a different method of processing nuclear fuel is used here.

Because of Japan's lack of natural resources, nuclear energy is particularly important as a way to reduce dependence on imports of oil and coal. Use of nuclear energy also reduces air pollution.

The lesson that should be learned from this accident is that safety precautions should be strengthened, not that nuclear energy should be abandoned.

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