WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaii News Now investigation revealed a majority of Maui County council members gave their staff thousands of dollars in bonuses last year while hundreds of Maui County employees endured five-percent pay reductions.
Maui County's nine council members pay their staff members and cover office equipment and supply bills out of their office accounts, which amounted to $117,922 each in 2011.
Seven council members gave 17 of their executive assistants bonuses last year, totaling $45,950, according to figures released by the Maui County Council responding to a request from Hawaii News Now. The average bonus came out to $2,703. The bonuses ranged on the low end from $700 to $1,000 up to highs of $5,000 and $7,000.
The bonuses happened in fiscal year 2011, the same time about 1,800 Maui County employees had their pay cut five percent because of furloughs.
"To give the guys on the top the more raises and cut from the working class. I don't think that's fair. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way," said Gerald Ponse of Paia, a Maui Department of Water Supply pipe fitter. Ponse is one of those county employees whose salary was reduced because of Maui county furloughs that ended last July.
Public school teacher Alice Kimura of Wailuku, who endured three years of pay cuts with school furloughs in recent years, felt the same way.
"It would be nice if we could have bonuses for everybody who puts in extra time. I think a lot of us put in extra time into our work," Kimura said.
Every person we talked to outside a Kahului supermarket had similar reactions.
"They're getting paid well, so they shouldn't be getting a bonus for doing their job correctly. They should just be happy that they have a job in these tough economic times," said Kim Robinson of Makawao, a retail store employee.
Maui Council Chairman Danny Mateo -- who represents Molokai -- has been on the council for nearly ten years.
Figures released by his office show Mateo gave his three staffers bonuses last year. One staffer whose base pay was $51,504 got a $1,500 bonus, a second aide whose base salary amounted to $48,420 also received a bonus of $1,500. A third Mateo employee who works three-fourths time and is paid $15,600 took home a $700 bonus. Mateo's staff bonuses totaled $3,700 last year.
"These are individuals that work with me from sun up to sundown. I don't have a problem in giving them bonuses. They are not typical employees. When my term ends, their term ends," Mateo said.
"This is short-term employment. And for us, because we're up for election every two years, these are people who could turn over every two years. So there really is no protection, like how the union employee has protection," Mateo said.
Mateo said council aides work long hours, sometimes nights and weekends. The day Hawaii News Now interviewed him April 25, the council held a night public hearing that went well past normal business hours.
But Ponse, the Maui Department of Water Supply worker said, "I feel that's part of the job when you took the job, yeah? You know what you were getting into and that's why you try to get that job."
Mateo, the council chairman, said, "We are all provided X amount of dollars on our own budgets, and for me, if there are funds left over at the end of the fiscal year, I have no problems."
(For a list of council members' staff salaries and bonuses, click HERE)
Many council members waited until mid or late June 2011, toward the end of the fiscal year that ends June 30, to issue bonuses to their employees, using leftover money in their office accounts.
That's what Wailuku councilman Michael Victorino did for four of his staffers. Two of them received salary supplements worth $5,250, with another getting a $2,250 bonus and a fourth taking a bonus of $1,000.
Victorino gave out the highest amount of staff bonuses: $13,750.
"So the bonus is if we've spent our money judiciously out of our account and we have what I call money that's leftover, I would feel that it's only right that I give them that opportunity and say 'Thank you for your hard work, your dedication,'" Victorino said.
Victorino defended the bonuses he gave his staff.
"They're not protected by civil service. They're not union. So they don't have also collective bargaining. They don't get automatic raises every two years or three years or every year or whatever it might be," Victorino said.
"These people are very valuable to me," Victorino added. "They'll call the various departments, get the information, many times have things ready so when the constituent calls me or comes in, (I can say) here's the answers."
Victorino is the father of professional baseball player Shane Victorino, who is a center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Victorino and Mateo's staff members voluntarily cut their pay by about five percent, similar to the furloughs absorbed by other Maui County employees.
But Lanai councilman Riki Hokama's four staffers did not take furlough pay cuts and three of them got bonuses, according to figures released to Hawaii News Now. Two of them received $3,000 supplements and a third took home a $7,000 bonus. Hokama's staff bonuses totaled $13,000, the second highest amount on the council.
John Min, the Hokama staffer who took home $7,000, the largest bonus issued by any Maui council member, was a part timer, who earned $25.30 an hour. That means 39 percent of Min's annual council salary of $18,334 pay came from his bonus.
Another Hokama aide, Dawn Fukutomi, was a half-time employee whose $4,384 in pay for three months worth of work was boosted by 41 percent, or $3,000, with the bonus she earned.
Jordan Helle, another part-time Hokama executive assistant who earned $25 an hour was given a $3,000 bonus equal to 41 percent of Helle's annual pay.
Hokama did not respond to Hawaii News Now's phone call or email for comment.
If council members left unspent salary money in their accounts at the end of the fiscal year, the cash would have reverted to Maui's general fund, to be used for county operations.
That's a better idea, said Maui taxpayers.
"There's a lot that needs to be done here. And that money could go toward something like that, instead of going in their pockets," said Phillip Miller of Kahului.
"Instead of everyone getting the bonuses that we as people paying our taxes are paying for, it should go (to general county expenses)," said Robinson of Makawao. "I live up country. There's potholes everywhere. You can't drive a car without potholes. So why it can't go to pot hole fixers, fixing the parks? Some of our parks are in desperate need of some uplifting and face lifting."
Asked if his leftover staff salary funds would be better used in the county's general fund, Mateo said, "I guess depending on which side of this desk you're at, you know? I think what we do with our allowable funds, to me, it's appropriate."
Kahului Councilman Joe Pontanilla, who chairs the council's budget committee, gave bonuses to his two staffers worth $3,000 each, for a total of $6,000.
"My office staff have not been issued a 'bonus', although they have received occasional salary adjustments. My staff has been an effective team for the nearly ten years I have served on the Council," said Pontanilla in an email.
"They are not entitled to negotiated step movements, pay increases, and certain union-negotiated and civil service benefits. In performing the duties associated to my office, my staff frequently works beyond the normal 40-hour work week," he wrote.
Pontanilla also said his staffers have seldom "sought overtime pay or reimbursements for vehicle mileage incurred in their service."
"Council member's office accounts, for which staff salaries are paid, realized a five percent reduction proportional to the pay cuts/furloughs imposed to many of our county's employees," Pontanilla said. "In addition, my office staff during this period voluntarily participated in the County's furlough program realizing limited earnings alongside other furloughed county employees."
Councilwoman Gladys Baisa, who represents Upcountry Maui, gave her two executive assistants bonuses of $1,500 and $1,000.
Baisa called her staff's bonuses "modest and well deserved. My staff frequently work long hours to respond to the needs of my constituents and have had no raises since they came into office with me in 2007. They also receive no overtime."
Makawao Councilman Mike White gave a $5,000 bonus to one of his two aides. White did not respond to Hawaii News Now's requests for comment.
Robert Carroll, who represents East Maui, gave his two staffers bonuses of $1,000 each.
"My staff works very hard at engaging with the public and the various, sometimes unanticipated responsibilities, that occur," Carroll said in an email. "They work at least 50 to 55 hours and week and many times on the weekend; there is no provision for overtime."
Elle Cochran and Donald Couch are the two council members who chose not to award their staff bonuses last year.