Editor’s note: Civil Beat is updating its Public Employee Salaries Database for the 2022 fiscal year that began July 1. Click here to see the latest from all state agencies, as well as all information for prior fiscal years dating back to 2011 and a portal to related articles. We’ll update with county data as it comes in.
When Civil Beat recently published the salaries and job titles of more than 48,000 state workers, they included the payrolls of two agencies whose directors have made a lot of headlines lately: the Hawaii Auditor’s Office and the Hawaii Ethics Commission.
State Auditor Les Kondo, whose staff is usually turning up the heat on other agencies with its audits of their performance, has been under fire himself from a working group appointed by House Speaker Scott Saiki in January. Its report found his office was producing insufficient and inadequate performance audits.
State Ethics Commission Director Dan Gluck, meanwhile, generated controversy after he was nominated by Gov. David Ige to become a judge on the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals. Gluck’s nomination was rejected by the state Senate after concerns were raised about the need for more diversity on the bench. Some critics also questioned whether he had sufficient trial experience.
The salary database allows us to take a closer look at how the offices led by Kondo and Gluck have evolved over the last decade.
Using Hawaii’s public records law, Civil Beat requested salary information from all state and county governmental agencies as of July 1, the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year. We’ve been collecting and publishing public employee salary data since the news site launched in 2010.
The working group appointed by Saiki cited Civil Beat’s past salary database records to bolster its contentions that there’s excessive turnover in the Auditor’s Office and that Kondo has restructured his staff to include fewer of the analysts who actually perform audits and more of the communications specialists who spiff up the audit reports.
Kondo called the report “garbage” in a recent interview with the Civil Beat Editorial Board and said some legislators don’t understand his job.
Those communications specialists are making audit reports more approachable and helping people understand what the office does, Kondo told the Editorial Board.
“Our reports before were pretty dry,” he said. “There were no pictures. There were no graphics. It was a lot of text and really hard-to-read text.”
The office conducts performance audits of government programs and state agencies, oversees financial audits, and performs other types of audits and analyses of proposed regulatory programs, proposals to mandate health insurance benefits, and proposed and existing special and revolving funds and trusts. It also performs special studies requested by the Legislature.
Kondo was appointed auditor by the Legislature in 2016. Civil Beat database records show staff turnover rates of 42.8% from fiscal year 2016 to 2018 (departures of nine of 21 employees) and 40% from fiscal year 2018 to 2020 (departures of 10 of 25 employees).
Newly released figures for fiscal year 2022 show a 25% turnover rate since 2020, with six of 24 employees departing.
That all makes for a lot of recently departed Auditor’s Office employees, and Kondo said the working group report relied heavily on their opinions.
“It goes without saying that former employees, especially those who were asked to leave the office, may harbor certain frustrations or resentments,” he said in an April letter to legislators.
Still, Kondo doesn’t consider the turnover in his office to be especially high considering the demands.
“This is a hard job,” the auditor told Civil Beat recently, noting his employees need “thick skins” as they ask tough questions of government officials. “We’ve had some great folks who have come and gone.”
Turnover was also an issue at the Auditor’s Office before Kondo’s arrival in 2016, database records show.
Only one of 26 employees departed from fiscal year 2011 to 2012, but since then it’s been something of a revolving door. The turnover rate was 40% for the one-year period from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, when 10 of 25 employees departed, including five of 14 analysts.
And the rate reached 50% during the three-year period from fiscal year 2013 to 2016 with the departure of 13 of 26 employees, including six of nine analysts.
There was turnover at the top as well, with Marion Higa retiring after 21 years as auditor in 2012. The department was then headed by acting auditor Jan Yamane, now executive director of the Honolulu Ethics Commission, before Kondo’s appointment in April 2016.
As for the makeup of the staff, salary database records show there has been a steady decline in the number of analysts, and they’ve also been sliding down the office payroll.
In fiscal year 2011, 14 of 26 staffers were analysts, and one of them was the second-highest-paid employee at $118,157. In new figures for fiscal year 2022, nine of 21 staffers were analysts, and the top-paid analyst at $84,432 ranked eighth on the overall payroll.
The turnover rate for analysts during Kondo’s tenure has been higher than the staff as a whole. It was 50% from fiscal year 2016 to 2018 (seven of 14 analysts departing) and 53.8% from fiscal year 2018 to 2020 (seven of 13 analysts departing). The latest figures show 30% turnover in the last two years, with three of 10 analysts departing.
Kondo said that even as he’s increased his staff’s emphasis on communications, he’s never lost track of the importance of his analysts.
“Analysts are the engine that drive this car,” he said. “They’re the guys that do the work.”
As of July 1 the agency was paying its longtime editor David Choo $112,998, graphics/communications specialist Jennifer Catanzariti $84,396 and writer Treena Miyamoto $71,406.
Editor Choo was the only communications-focused employee on the staff until fiscal year 2018, when he and two assistant editors were employed. His salary has risen by 25.6% since fiscal year 2011, when it was $84,000.
By contrast, two analysts have been working for the Auditor’s Office since fiscal year 2011 and their salaries over the years have risen in one case by a total of 8.9% and in the other case by 16.3%.
Five employees were paid more than Choo as of July 1, including Kondo ($154,812), Deputy Auditor Daria Loy-Goto ($138,534), Administrative Deputy Auditor Lauren Kawajiri ($120,000), General Counsel Megan Johnson ($119,820) and IT Coordinator Jon Hashimoto ($115,920).
“Everyone is fairly paid,” Kondo said. “My office door is always open and I’m ready to talk” to any employee concerned about salaries.
The House speaker’s working group said Kondo steadfastly refused to cooperate with its efforts, while he said he was willing to participate if the group had addressed his concerns about the scope of the work and requests for confidential personnel records and audit files.
Animosity clearly exists between Kondo and Saiki, who in addition to creating the working group also proposed a 50% reduction in the Auditor’s Office budget in January. Kondo said that would have “gutted” the office.
Saiki also co-introduced another measure to give lawmakers control over the auditor’s salary. Currently it is set by statute and cannot be changed during the auditor’s eight-year term.
The speaker told Civil Beat in April his targeting of the Auditor’s Office is “not to get rid of people, it’s to improve.”
In a more recent interview, Saiki said the working group’s concerns about the office’s high turnover and less emphasis on analysts are well-founded.
“You want long-term employees,” he said, adding that the efforts of communications specialists “do not translate to audit work.”
Neither of Saiki’s legislative proposals was approved, but the Auditor’s Office has still been downsized, the latest database figures show. As of July 1 it has 21 employees and a payroll of $1,892,232, which is an 11% decrease from the 2020 fiscal year, when it had 24 staffers paid a total of $2,124,972.
In his prior role as executive director of the Hawaii Ethics Commission, Kondo’s strict interpretations of the ethics law aroused the ire of then-House Speaker Joe Souki and other legislators. Their complaints prompted an Ethics Commission evaluation of Kondo’s performance that covered 10 meetings over nine months, but he ultimately survived.
But for all the animosity he has generated among some members of the Legislature, Kondo’s salary has risen from $108,984 as Ethics Commission director in fiscal year 2011 to the current $154,812 as auditor, an increase of 29.6%.
After Kondo became auditor, Dan Gluck was appointed as his successor by the Ethics Commission in 2016.
Gluck has overseen an Ethics Commission staff that has enjoyed far more employee stability than the Auditor’s Office, according to Civil Beat database records.
Indeed, the top eight wage-earners on his staff in fiscal year 2022 are the same as in 2020. They include Gluck, who got a raise from $147,444 to the standard state department head rate of $154,812, Associate Director Susan Yoza, now making $135,768 (up from $132,456), four staff attorneys, a computer specialist and the office manager.
Yoza’s tenure as associate director dates all the way back to Civil Beat’s first database in fiscal year 2011, when she earned $100,188. Two of the staff attorneys, Nancy Neuffer and Virginia Chock, also go all the way back, as does computer specialist Patrick Lui.
“We’re fortunate to have a very stable group of employees, including several long-time staff members with encyclopedic institutional knowledge,” Gluck told Civil Beat.
The Ethics Commission itself consists of five volunteers appointed by the governor, who chooses from nominees proposed by the state Judicial Council.
The size of the staff hasn’t changed much in the last decade, ranging from nine employees up to 11 and currently at 10. The total payroll, however, has increased 33% from $630,180 in fiscal year 2011 to $942,048 as of July 1.
There have been four staff attorneys since fiscal year 2013, up from three in 2011 and 2012. One of them is always “Attorney of the Day,” fielding questions about the State Ethics Code and Lobbyists Law. They often deal with possible conflicts of interest, the appropriateness of gifts to state officials, and how to file financial and lobbying disclosures.
The staff provides training to legislators, state employees and lobbyists, a task that has been mostly accomplished online during the pandemic. Gluck said 1,692 people received online training during the 2020 calendar year. Another 1,196 were trained in person last year.
The commission also reviews complaints and investigates potential violations of the Ethics Code and Lobbyists Law.
Coming soon: A closer look at some of the other state departments in the database, and a first look at Hawaii’s four county governments.
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