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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

Out-of-state job candidates likely out of luck, written policy or not

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

It's hard to imagine that in a culture with such a strong policy of unspoken exclusion, there actually would be a standing state law that requires certain government jobs be filled only by Hawai'i residents.

What were they thinking? Who wrote that down in black and white? What a breach of etiquette! Somebody should have known that sort of thing should never be committed to a written document.

The local-style "act nice" passive/aggressive code of conduct allows for empty promises and unspoken exclusion. "Say you do but then don't" is almost expected in a great number of situations. But to flat-out say you don't? In writing? That's altogether different.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i is going after the state on behalf of two people from the Mainland who applied for jobs but were rejected out of hand because they didn't live here. Last week, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction, saying the law is "discriminatory on its face."

On its face, yes, but in its intent? Well, it's complicated.

Sure, we all want the most qualified people to work in government, but isn't understanding the community you serve an important requirement to many of those jobs?

It's not enough to be job-skilled you have to be place-skilled, too. You have to know this community fairly well to function without bumping into some sort of cultural more or tradition or eccentricity or intricacies of geography. It's not unreasonable to expect government workers to be ma'a with this place.

That is true of every single town and county and municipality in this country.

Then there is the argument that we have enough people here already. This was the initial motivation behind the law.

It's hard to move here, find a place to live, pay that big bill to the shipping company to bring all your stuff, get used to paying 6 bucks for Frosted Flakes and 15 bucks for Tide.

Housing is tight and there's too much traffic. The country isn't country anymore. Do we really want government jobs attracting more new residents to compete for affordable housing or available parking?

And, frankly, tired already explaining mauka and makai.

But the law excluding nonresidents from applying for certain government jobs is on shaky legal ground. Discriminatory or discretionary? Such a hair-fine line.

If the plaintiffs prevail and the law is revoked, or if the Legislature changes the law, there's a chance that qualified people who don't live here still won't be hired for state or county jobs. Same thing like before, but it'll all be unspoken.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.