Posted on: Saturday, December 21, 2002
Labor lawyer to be state's chief negotiator
Post: State chief negotiator
Contracts for about 57,000 state and county public workers are scheduled to expire June 30.
Hong, 45, was assistant corporation counsel to former Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro through most of Yamashiro's term from 1992 to 2000. In the waning months of the administration, he was named corporation counsel, succeeding Richard Wurdeman, who had resigned.
Known as a labor attorney, Hong has been in private practice since 2001. He was among a group of Democrats to publicly support Republican Lingle in the governor's race, and was one of several Hilo coordinators for the campaign.
Among Hong's duties on the Big Island was his defense of the privatization of the Pu'uanahulu Landfill in Kona when the United Public Workers brought suit against Hawai'i County.
Hong said his role then was an advocate for the county and he does not believe his history with worker unions will affect his impartiality.
"This is a more collaborative position; it's something that you need to cooperatively go out there and try and work out solutions," Hong said. "I will treat my counterparts in the public sector unions with respect, I will treat them courteously and cordially. I will always have an open door to anybody who wants to meet and talk with me not only with respect to the union bosses but the rank-and-file."
Hong said he will do his best to keep Lingle's promises to not lay off government workers or take away benefits they already have. But, he added, "we are also looking to make sure we are good stewards of the taxpayers' funds."
Lingle also announced the appointment of Maui Prosecutor Richard T. Bissen Jr. as first deputy attorney general. The announcement follows the appointment of Mark Bennett as attorney general.
Bissen has been the Maui County prosecutor since 1995. He has also served as a supervising deputy prosecutor handling violent crime and high profile cases for the department. He was also a law partner in the firm of Cardoza, Fukuoka and Bissen and clerked for retired Second Circuit Court Judge Richard Komo.
Lingle said she will name on Monday the directors of the state Department of Public Safety and the state Department of Agriculture.
Lingle said it's difficult to attract people to serve as department heads when they are paid about $85,000 a year, and that she will recommend to the Legislature that a salary commission be created and authorized to set the salaries of state department heads, lawmakers and the governor. The salaries are currently set in statute, and Lingle said, "It's very difficult for politicians to agree to salary increases for themselves or anyone else.
"In a minority of cases it's an opportunity for a young person to be given a level of responsibility and it would be an increase, but those are one or two cases," Lingle said. "The majority are people who are taking a pay cut."