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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

A case of Dobellian excess

By David Shapiro

The $800,000-a-year contract given University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones is generating passionate debate about state priorities, but other big executive salaries approved by the Board of Regents the same day might prove more significant.

Regents completed UH President Evan Dobelle's spending spree on top administrators with new appointments that bring to more than a dozen the UH managers who receive more than $200,000 annually, topped by Dobelle himself at $442,000.

These are staggering numbers when you consider that former UH President Kenneth Mortimer, whom Dobelle succeeded two years ago, earned $168,000. Mortimer ran the UH-Manoa campus in addition to acting as CEO of the UH system.

Dobelle spun off UH-Manoa to a new chancellor, Peter Englert, who is paid $254,000. Now he's hired a new chief of staff, Sam Callejo, at $200,000 to run his office while he focuses on fund-raising. He has a chief financial officer to help with that at $227,000 a year.

Dobelle says the high salaries are simply business deals to attract quality people needed to make UH a world-class institution.

In an ideal world, the lofty executive pay might be justified. But in the real world of crushing state budget deficits, such unrestrained extravagance is ivory-tower thinking at its worst. It's costing Dobelle valuable standing among the public and key constituencies whose goodwill he needs to succeed in his job.

Nervous regents are telling him he'd better start delivering soon on that world-class university he's been promising.

The high UH pay is called "ridiculous" by Gov. Linda Lingle, who earns only $94,780 a year herself and whose department heads are capped at $85,302.

Most importantly, Dobelle is breaking faith with a promise to move his faculty substantially higher on the national salary curve. While administrative salaries skyrocket, UH faculty must forgo negotiated pay raises this year.

The appointment of Callejo to the $200,000 position of chief of staff will be seen as the signature piece of Dobellian excess.

In what warped universe is a state university president's chief of staff worth twice as much as the governor's chief of staff — especially when it's the same person moving from one job to the other?

We're facing a budget crisis in which sorely needed public school repairs are put off, hours are reduced at state libraries and social services are slashed for Hawai'i's neediest citizens.

Is this really the politic time for Dobelle to pad his own nest with an executive caddy to do his heavy lifting for him? Is there any good reason why Dobelle and his managers can't roll up their sleeves and do a little more work for a little less pay — just as other state employees are being asked to do in tough times?

Callejo must feel as if he won the lottery. Eight months ago, he was toiling as former Gov. Ben Cayetano's chief of staff for $90,041 a year.

He was first brought into UH as director of capital improvements at a salary of $150,000 — a raise of over 50 percent from what he was getting in the governor's office.

When Dobelle promoted him to chief of staff, Callejo was replaced as director of capital improvements by Jan Yokota at $120,000 a year. It makes you wonder if UH had to pay nearly as much as it did to secure Callejo's services for either job.

In this light, it starts to look less like a business deal and more like a political reward to the top aide of a former governor.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.