Council busybodies should work less to help residents

Maui County Council members say they spend more than 40 hours per week on the job, and some of them want higher salaries to account for that hard work.

But, like Hawaii’s late small-business guru George Mason, founding publisher of Pacific Business News, used to say, it’s not how hard or how many hours you work, it’s how much work you get done.

The Maui County Council members might be spending 50, 60, even more hours a week “working,” but what are they really getting done?

Mostly they are busy creating new regulations, raising taxes and figuring out other ways to interfere in the daily affairs of the county’s residents, when probably the best way to improve the lives of their constituents would be to simply hold off on creating any new regulations for a while and, even better, maybe repeal a few. This would take up less “work” time and mitigate any idea that higher salaries are in order.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Maui council members already are the highest paid county council members in the state, receiving $76,475 a year, not counting benefits. That’s between roughly $12,000 and $24,000 more a year than their counterparts on Oahu, $64,008; Kauai, $56,781; and Hawaii island, $52,008.

Nationally, council members in municipalities with populations similar in size to Maui make on average only $36,227 year, or $42,892 when adjusted for Hawaii’s cost of living, according to a survey by the International City and County Management Association.

Yet even that is considered pretty high by some standards. Sandy Springs, Ga., which has a population of over 100,000 people, pays its council members just $18,000 a year (or $22,995 adjusted for Hawaii’s cost of living), yet the city is ranked as one of the top 100 best places to live in America, and the second best city in the United States for millennials.

Sandy Springs council members meet only four times a month, and keep their workload to a minimum.

Council members on Maui certainly spend a lot of time on the job, so paying them for the time worked might seem to make sense. But the amount of time spent on the job is self-imposed by the council members themselves, who spend countless hours on efforts to create more regulations. As the county’s deputy corporation counsel, Gary Murai, clarified at the meeting earlier this month of the Maui Salary Commission, the council members technically are a unique class of public servant, neither full time nor part time, whose hours are of their own making, but who qualify for state benefits. That was the same meeting at which the commission rejected granting a 3 percent pay raise to the council members.

As for what the council members actually get done, more regulations and laws do not necessarily make Maui a better place to live. Economist Jose Torra, who spoke at a public event on Maui in February 2018, noted that Hawaii already has more regulations than most states, which puts the islands near the bottom of the Economic Freedom of North America index, at 45th. Torra, who helps compile the annual index, said fewer regulations would be the way to improve life in Hawaii, which by implication would include Maui County.

If council members could simply reorient their efforts to focus on checking or reducing the scope of government, they could spend less time flying back and forth between islands, attending interminable council committee meetings, and reading innumerable mind-numbing proposed new laws — and more time in the community, at the beach, hiking, with their families, or even at productive part-time jobs.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but perhaps that could even justify a pay decrease! Maui taxpayers could pay less for better service, while enjoying greater individual autonomy and expanded opportunities to prosper.

If Maui County Council members do not reorient their working objectives, to achieve goals that would help their fellow residents as well as themselves, there is no doubt they will be back before the Maui Salary Commission next year, and every year afterward, to complain about how little they are being paid for all the “work” that they supposedly do.


This commentary was originally published in The Maui News on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

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