[ OUR OPINION ]
Football coach’s contract
merits public scrutiny
AFTER a four-year delay of game, the University of Hawaii has agreed to make public the current contract of football coach June Jones and, once he signs it, the $800,016-a-year contract covering the next five years. The university's excuse that unveiling the contract could frustrate salary negotiations with other coaches was lame. Contracts involving state institutions should be subject to public scrutiny.
The University of Hawaii has agreed to make public the terms of football coach June Jones' current and pending contracts.
The size of Jones' salary under the new contract is a matter of public discussion, as it should be. While some may shake their heads about a coach making several times the salary of the governor, others argue strongly that Jones' success with the UH football program has brought far more dollars to the state than his agreed-upon compensation. His single-season turnaround of the program in 1999 was the biggest in college football history, bringing national television exposure and thousands of fair-weather fans to Aloha Stadium.
In that opening year of Jones' contract, the university asked the Office of Information Practices, which oversees the state's open-records law, if it could keep it from public eyes. UH journalism professor Beverly Keever asked the office to help her gain access to the contract, and the Star-Bulletin and other news organizations subsequently joined in the request. At that time and up to now, Jones was paid about $400,000 a year.
Under the pending contract, about half the money going to Jones will come from private contributors. Those contributors and the size of their contributions should be revealed even though public money is not involved because the public should be aware of any conflicts of interest that might arise.
The Office of Information Practices three times urged UH to disclose the current contract, even allowing the university to keep portions of it confidential. The university responded that confidential parts were "not segregable" from parts that it seemed to agree should be made public.
As for the UH position that divulging terms of the contract would damage athletic director Herman Frazier's ability to negotiate future coach contracts, OIP officials said "it is simply too unrealistic" that other coaches would demand terms similar to those won by Jones.
The university said it will not disclose details of the new contract until Jones has signed it. That is understandable, and the rewards flowing from the pact should be adequate inducement for Jones to put pen to paper, regardless of the public becoming aware of what's inside.
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ON-THE-JOB conflicts are not unusual, most of them involving verbal exchanges. However, when they turn physical, employers are obligated to discipline those who lay hands on their colleagues or the workers they supervise.
Governor Lingle has suspended her labor director for his involvement in a confrontation with an employee.
For this reason, Governor Lingle has appropriately punished the head of the state labor department after he grabbed the arm of a subordinate during an argument in his office last month. Although no one was hurt in the incident, it was necessary for Lingle to make clear such behavior would not be tolerated, suspending for five days without pay a man she considers a good friend.
Nelson Befitel, who Lingle has known since he was 10 years old, was an attorney specializing in labor and employment law before he joined the governor's cabinet as labor director. His experience should have served him better in the confrontation with James Decker, a branch manager in the department, who an investigation concluded "goaded and taunted" Befitel, a judgment Decker denies.
The confrontation apparently stemmed from Befitel's attempts to adopt a pro-business culture in the department, which Lingle earlier this month described as "a tool of labor unions" under previous administrations. Such a change, she said, was being met with resistance.
No doubt getting entrenched bureaucracies to embrace a different attitude can be arduous. Nonetheless, Befitel should not have allowed his frustration to overwhelm him. In addition, Decker and other workers would do well to keep in mind that there's a new administration in town and that as public servants they owe their bosses -- not to mention the taxpayer -- their full cooperation.