I went to see Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. yesterday.
He’d called me last week, and asked if I’d be willing to sit down and talk story. We'd met, but never really had a discussion.
“Sure,” I said. Because I’m always open to talking to the people I write about. I mean, fair is fair. But few ever call; instead, their wives and attorneys post nasty anonymous comments. Yes, I know who some of you are.
“Maybe he’s going to offer you a job,” suggested an idealistic friend.
“Ummm, I don’t think so,” I said, reminding her that I’d neither assisted the mayor’s campaign, nor voted for him.
“Ask how big was the envelop starwood gave him wen he wen 2 ask them 2 hire local instead of tht Mexican crew frm Texas,” texted a more cynical friend.
He kept me waiting just a few minutes, then ushered me into the spacious office I hadn’t entered since it was occupied by Bryan Baptiste. Mary Daubert didn’t follow us in, and Beth Tokioka wasn’t there, either. In other words, I was going to get the mayor unembellished. I took that as a good sign.
After a bit of small talk, he made the reason for our get-together clear: he wanted to know the person behind the blog. Like others — most recently, Joel Guy, who expressed trepidation about our first meeting — he seemed surprised to discover I’m neither mean nor scary. I think “cool” was the word they both used. Must be my multi-colored hair, which gives me a chance to plug my fab stylist, HS Ferreira.
Bernard then said he was opening the door for me to call him any time, and asked if I had any questions. The first one to pop into my head addressed an issue that, unbeknownst known to me, Councilman KipuKai Kualii had raised quite eloquently and astutely that very same day before voting on the budget: the mayor’s five new hires, and their sizable salaries.
As The Garden Island reports today in its account of the Council budget vote and discussion:
“Four of these five positions were dollar-funded positions, additions to the budget that the mayor chose to make,” [Kualii] said. “The council needs to have full budgetary powers in order to protect the interests of our citizens by being a check and balance of the administration on all expenditures, especially salaries. If it takes changing the law then that needs to happen.
“It’s against the interest of the community to give council authority for budgetary oversight when it comes to taking on new expenditures in excess of $6,500 for equipment, furniture and vehicles in the middle of the fiscal year but not have a law to prevent the manipulation of vacant or dollar-funded positions resulting in several new positions each costing over $100,000, positions that some citizens have brought to my attention as unnecessary political hires,” Kuali‘i said.
KipuKai also provided the paper with a rundown on those five positions that outlined the old and new job titles and salary. It includes the Special Assistant to the Housing Director position created for Imai Aiu when he was moved out of the planning department — a topic addressed in my second question, which I’ll discuss in another post — as well as an administrative aide, an executive assistant, an Environmental Services Officer and a Risk Management Administrator. Combined, they’re making $430,252 per year, plus $208,455 in benefits.
In explaining the rationale behind his hires, the mayor used a football metaphor that placed him as the quarterback in the line up. “I gotta be able to trust the guys on either side of me,” said the former Miami Dolphins player, looking right and left, his face and voice registering excitement. I could imagine him preparing to hike the pigskin. “I don’t ask how much they’re making, I just know they’re gonna be able to run with the ball and make a touchdown.”
It seems that Bernard, who advanced from the rank and file during his 26 years with the county, knows how difficult it can be to light a fire under the butts of some county workers, is aware of their tendency to cruise and wait out the term of the newest mayor. After sitting in the mayor’s chair for two years, fulfilling the term and agenda of the late Mayor Baptiste, he was eager now to make his own mark, advance his own ideas. And to do that, he said, he knew he needed to put people he could trust, and whom he could personally hold accountable, in some key positions.
He acknowledges their participation in his campaign, and is aware that some of us view it as political patronage. He, however, sees it as insurance that at least some of the changes he envisions will occur.
This was followed by a rather lengthy monologue, as is the nature of most politicians, about his efforts to reorganize and better organize the workings of the county, as well as some aspects of his vision, such as creating an online tracking system for capital improvement projects and a policy and procedures manual for new hires; training staff in sexual harassment; and other administrative housekeeping measures that one would think would already be in place, but apparently aren’t.
It became clear, while listening, that the mayor is smarter than I’d thought, in that he is at least able to see the bigger picture and what needs to be tweaked to make it function better.
I also can understand why he, as captain, wants to assemble his own team of trusted players.
But that doesn't change the fact that we, the voters, need to be able to trust him, which is why I agree with KipuKai’s position on the mayor's new hires:
“Having the council approve these changes to positions in between budgets and prior to any actual hiring would prevent the administration from acting alone and would restore the public’s confidence in our county hiring process.”
I also happen to agree with Councilman Mel Rapozo on the overall budget presented by the mayor, against which he cast the lone vote in opposition:
“The philosophy I thought this year was to reduce and we didn’t,” Rapozo said. “We increased and we increased substantially.” He said he believes the increased spending sends the wrong message to the state, to the Federal government and to voters.
Especially after some county workers lost substantial pay during the furloughs.
"So is there anything you want to ask me, or say about anything I've written?" I asked the mayor, in the spirit of fair play.
“Some of the things you've written have been hurtful," he said. "Not to me, because I'm a big boy, and I can take it, but to my family."
I winced, though only a little, because I'm sorry, but it goes with the territory.
"And some of it has been just been plain wrong," he continued.
I don't doubt it.
"But I don’t expect you to always agree with me, and I would never ask you to change anything you’ve been doing,” said the mayor, who, having majored in communications and worked briefly at KGMB, said he understands the role of a journalist.
That's good, and as it should be.
Still, he’s politically savvy enough to know that it’s easier for a journalist to inflict damage from a Predator drone than to thrust a bayonet while looking into the eyes of your opponent.
But at least now I know I can call Bernard directly and say, "Hey, what's up with that?" And I imagine that from now on he'll be doing the same with me.