Maui County Councilman Mike White’s Nepotism Bill Now Exempts County Council

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We’ve been kicking around Maui County Council member Mike White a lot lately for the attention he tends to lavish on organizations he’s cozy with (like the Maui Visitors Bureau and SPCA Maui) as well as the sudden righteousness he’s shown in his desire to “investigate” Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration over the old Wailuku Post Office demolition. But these last few weeks, White’s actually been trying to do something genuinely progressive in the county, and we’d like to salute him for it.

On Monday, July 15, near the end of its 9am meeting, the Maui County Council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee took up White’s County Communication 13-127, which was simply titled “NEPOTISM POLICY.” That’s right, kids: White is asking the County of Maui to stop the practice of allowing some family members to work for other family members (click here for a previous post on White’s bill, which includes a link to the bill’s original text).

Given that Maui is a small island, it’s only natural that nepotism sprouts here and there in official offices. The Maui County Department of Liquor Control is probably the most famous example of this–you might even call the place a family business. In fact, you could turn the department’s familial relations into a pretty decent drinking game: just take a shot every time you see the name “Silva” on their official phone directory.

There are other noteworthy examples. Maui County Council member Riki Hokama recently employed his nephew Jordan Helle as a part-time aide. In May 2012, that hire made statewide news when Keoki Kerr at Hawaii News Now reported that Hokama paid Helle $25 an hour and gave him a $3,000 bonus (though Kerr did not reveal that Helle and Hokama were related).

Then there was the fact that for 15 years, Wailuku Main Street Association (WMSA) Executive Director Jocelyn Perreira had employed her own daughter as an office manager. In fact, WMSA–which took nearly all of its revenue from County of Maui grants–had an anti-nepotism rule in place when Perreira made the hire, but the board then retroactively changed it not longer after Perreira’s daughter started work.

In any case, the bill White put forward on July 15 came down on nepotism hard. It banned the hiring of relatives throughout the county–including the County Council. It was a tough, but necessary reform.

I say “was,” because that bill disappeared at the July 15 PIA hearing. In it’s place White put forth a revised bill (White didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment). That bill banned nepotism in county offices “except” in the case of the Maui County Council, which can still hire relatives for its executive assistant posts. Curiously, that bill also included a new proviso that it applies “retroactively to all officers and employees of the county,” which would normally get hearts racing over at the LC, except that the Maui County Corporation Counsel’s office objected to making it retroactive.

“Corporation Counsel raised questions about the retroactive part,” said Kirstin Hammond, a staffer on the PIA Committee. “The bill was deferred.”

Hammond couldn’t say for certain if or when the bill will return in some form, though the PIA Committee next meets on July 29.

Photo courtesy Maui County Council website