Pay Raises and a Presidential Election

by Will Espero

Most of us believe we are worth a certain amount of money when it comes to doing our jobs where we work.

Education, work experience, accomplishments, titles, and workload are factors in determining one’s proper salary in the workplace.

In government, the matter of proper pay can be contentious and controversial when it comes to the pay of elected officials.

The recent City and County of Honolulu Salary Commission appointed by elected officials has recommended 64% pay raises for our current Oahu council members, and this has caused a wave of opposition to the abnormally high percentage increase.

It has also created a difficult situation for supportive council members who currently make approximately $70,000 a year for what is considered part-time work.

Some council members will tell you they work full-time, evenings, and weekends, and they are due a significant pay raise after many small increases or no increases over the years. There is also talk about making the City Council full-time so members can focus all their energy and efforts on improving the City and County of Honolulu and working for the best interest of Oahu residents. This I support.

When one looks at the current mayor’s salary of $186,432, a council member’s suggested salary of $113,304 doesn’t seem too outrageous.

The mayor’s proposed raise is $209,856. The prosecuting attorney currently makes $176,688 with a suggested raise to $198,888. The managing director makes $178,320 with a suggested raise to $200,712. His deputy earns $169,000 with a suggested raise to $190,296.

The multiple department heads in the City and County of Honolulu earn $166,560 with a recommendation by the Salary Commission to $187,488.

The police chief’s and fire chief’s recommended salaries are $231,648 and $224,304 respectively, and the highest-paid City worker is the medical examiner whose pay is expected to increase from $310,200 to $363,144.

I’m guessing many long-time government civil servants are making over $115,000 in various department positions.Now, a large percentage of Oahu residents are unhappy with the pay increases and believe the 64% increase for City Council members is too high. They have loudly expressed their opinions on traditional and social media.

They want the council members to vote on their raises, but it is not a mandated requirement.

Many council members, however, believe the Salary Commission is the proper authority to discuss and debate this high-profile issue, and the current process was created so elected officials would not be in a position to decide and vote for their own pay raises.

That is why the Salary Commission was created.

I do believe the City Council members deserve a raise, especially when one sees what other City and County employees are earning. I haven’t even mentioned state government salaries where many management, specialty, and executive-level jobs make in excess of $113,000.

Had I been on the Salary Commission, I would have kept the pay increase under six digits. For what the City Council members are supposed to do, a salary in the $90,000 plus range would work for me.

Council members are always in the public eye and under intense scrutiny. On social media, they are adored, and they are vilified. Their job is never dull, and at times, people hate them, and at times, people love them. The nature of elected officials’ work makes it so that one cannot please everyone, and there is someone likely talking stink or unhappy with their actions. It comes with the territory. The high cost of living in Hawaii and the quality of service should also be considered when deciding what we should pay our elected officials. Our future and the future of our children are directly impacted by elected officials and their decisions.

The issues are endless – homelessness, crime, traffic, affordable housing, taxes, landfills, corruption, parks and recreation, infrastructure, the environment, waste management, and the economy. Some issues and decisions are simple, and many are complex and entail spending millions in taxpayer dollars.

Thus, elected officials’ pay should be at a level to prompt Hawaii’s best and brightest to run for office. And in an ideal world, elected officials would make enough money, so they don’t have to secure a second job and be beholden to another master.

The only significant conditions for elected office are U.S. citizenship, living in the district one represents, and proper age, and I hypothesize many qualified community leaders don’t run for office because the pay is too low to survive comfortably in a state made up of haves and have-nots.

On another note, the Republican race for president is the early race to watch in 2024. The historic indictment of Donald Trump regarding top secret and classified government documents in his possession after Trump left the White House will certainly have an impact on him and the election.

Several big-name Republicans like Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Chris Christie have entered the primary with others expected to join the campaign knowing the potential downside of Trump. The smell of blood in the water always draws attention. With all the problems and negative press Trump has been accumulating, I wonder what it will take for Trump to step aside and forgo the presidential election.

I’m sure Trump’s Republican opponents are hoping he will stumble and fall in the coming months with some waiting to see what will happen in the state of Georgia where Trump infamously went looking for votes to win the state in 2020.

For me as a Democrat, Trump’s loss in 2020 and his inability to publicly acknowledge the defeat amongst other things shows an individual who is selfish, out of touch with reality, and incapable and unqualified to lead our nation.

It does appear like President Biden will be the Democratic nominee despite his age which has been a topic of concern for some. A rematch between Biden and Trump is a strong possibility if Trump can survive his legal battles and challenges in court.

Another path for Trump is a cell in prison if his lawyers are not able to produce a win over the Department of Justice.

The year 2024 is certainly a year to watch and see if the first president in history is cleared of his alleged crimes or if the stains of power, arrogance, and corruption catch up to the former leader of the free world.

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