Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

City's retired rehired

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

The city has put 83 retired municipal workers back on the payroll this year, some as well-paid temporary employees who essentially return to their old jobs on short-term contracts while continuing to collect a government pension.

"What happened to doing more with less? They cut back, and look, they're bringing them back again. That's very questionable," said John DeSoto, Council Chairman.

Advertiser library photo • Feb. 19, 2002

The rehired retirees earn salaries ranging from $7,411 a month for a veteran engineer in the Department of Design and Construction to $8.68 an hour for an usher. Retired deputy police chief Robert "Doug" Aton went back on the city payroll recently to run the O'ahu Civil Defense Agency at a salary of $5,666 a month.

Council Chairman John DeSoto said the practice creates what appears to be a patronage system for favored city workers.

He questioned why the city was filling so many vacancies while trying to cut costs through attrition.

"What happened to doing more with less?" DeSoto said. "They cut back, and look, they're bringing them back again. That's very questionable."

City Managing Director Ben Lee defended the practice, saying it's hard to find experienced professionals in some highly technical administrative jobs. In most cases, he said, the retirees are helping during a transition, training junior employees. He praised the group's institutional memory, knowledge and skill.

"They're all absolutely wonderful people — they work as if they are three people," he said.

Some City Council members say they are troubled that retirees are being placed in fairly high-paying positions while continuing to collect pension benefits, which can amount to as much as 60 percent of the salary they earned in their highest-paying years on the job.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she was surprised by the large number of retirees who had been called back to work.

She wants to find out how widespread the practice is and what the administration has done to try to fill the jobs permanently.

The head of the state's largest public-worker union believes that promoting workers into permanent positions makes for more accountability than relying on short-term contracts.

"When it prevents incumbent employees from being promoted, it's really, really bad for morale," said Russell Okata, executive director of the 25,000-member Hawai'i Government Employees Association. "I believe the public is best served when you have permanent career civil service employees doing the public's work."

Long-term employees provide continuity and commitment, Okata said, because "it's your neck that's on the line. When you're there for 89 days, I don't believe that's the type of public service employee that we would want."

The city hires the retirees on 89-day contracts, a day short of becoming permanent hires. Workers generally take a day's break between contracts. Lee said there are no guidelines on how long a retiree might be contracted; it depends on the assignment.

He said Aton, a 32-year police veteran, had agreed to take the civil defense position after the department chief and second-in-command retired, leaving the agency with its top positions vacant.

Longtime city appointee Joe Magaldi was reassigned temporarily from Parks and Recreation as Aton's assistant. He is paid $5,959 a month.

Soon after his retirement, Aton was appointed by Mayor Jeremy Harris to a salaried position in the Office of Waikiki Development, a position he held for several years.

Aton said it makes sense to bring back experienced workers, though he can understand the criticism. The city does not have to cover the retirees' medical, dental or retirement benefits, so "it saves the city a lot of money."

George Tamashiro, an engineer who serves as special assistant to the director of Design and Construction, said he plans to begin reducing his hours as he makes the transition to retirement, so he can spend more time volunteering.

Tamashiro retired at age 64 after 32 years. He said he agreed to come back until others could be trained to take over his position.

"It's an interim solution to a people problem. Somebody needs to keep the projects moving," he said. "I'm trying to not hurt the organization that I really care for."

Planner Ernie Tomita retired in January at age 55 with almost 30 years' experience. He works on budgeting, programming and coordination for federally financed programs at the Department of Transportation Services.

"I stayed home for three weeks after I retired and watched the grass grow," Tomita said. "They're supposed to get somebody in, and I'm supposed to train them."

Longtime city human resources worker Lynn Yamamoto retired in December 2000 after 19 years with the city and 11 with the state. He has been on a series of short-termcontracts, working for the semi-autonomous city Board of Water Supply at $6,090 a month.

Yamamoto said he was asked to return because the board is reorganizing and his experience was valuable. He said he plans to return to retirement "as soon as we can get things settled."

Okata said having one person collecting two government paychecks amounts to "double dipping."

Lee called that an unfair characterization of the people rehired.

"We had to twist their arms to have them come back," he said. "I don't believe their intent is to double-dip."

City Councilman Gary Okino, who retired after working 32 years as a city planner, sees both sides of the issue.

"They're all very capable and competent people. When they leave, it's hard to replace these people," Okino said. At the same time, he conceded, "it's kind of lucrative for these people."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.