Way back in 1883, the federal government enacted the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, in response to the Gilded Age corruption that plagued the public sector at the time. The act mandated that merit, tested through the use of civil service exams, decide who got a job with the federal government, instead of political affiliation. The act didn’t cover all employees, but it was a start towards the Progressive Era reforms a decade later that slowly stopped politicians from simply giving away jobs to their cronies and campaign contributors (but presidents, as we’re seeing now, still apparently get wide latitude to appoint whoever they want to top jobs, regardless of how crazy unqualified he might be).
Fast forward to the Dec. 2, 2016 Maui County Council hearing. Near the end of the four-plus hour meeting, the members began discussing Chairperson Mike White’s appointment of Sananda “Sandy” Baz, who had been serving as Mayor Alan Arakawa’s Budget Director, to a job at the Office of Council Services, which “provides research, clerical, and logistical support to the committees of the County Council, and to Council members in the performance of their official legislative duties” and “provide[s] objective assistance to individual Council members,” according to its website.
Baz got the job. But when The Maui News reported on this appointment in their Dec. 7 story “Some familiar faces take on new jobs in the county building,” they left out a few details. One is that Councilmember Don Guzman vehemently opposed the Baz appointment, saying (among other reasons) that it violated established hiring procedures. The other is that Councilmember Riki Hokama defended the appointment in a wild, disquieting way.
Normally, appointments to the Office of Council Services require interviews, a test and generally just take a long time. But here, Guzman said White was just pushing Baz’s name through on the authority of his standing as Council chair. In his defense, White said that since the appointment was only “temporary”–all appointments at the office are subject to termination when the new Council takes office on Jan. 2, 2017–it was okay to dispense with normal hiring procedures.
But then Hokama spoke up–not to praise Baz (he didn’t even mention him by name) but to defend White’s use of “patronage.” That’s right: Hokama was defending the right of a councilmember to appoint anyone he or she wants to a job, regardless of any established “hiring process.”
The full verbatim minutes of the Dec. 2 hearing aren’t yet online, but you can watch video of the hearing here (the discussion of the Baz appointment starts around the 4-hour mark, and Hokama starts talking at 4:11). As you’ll see, Hokama not only defends patronage, but proceeds to rip into the Office of Council Services directly–even to the point of warning employees there (he mentions no names) that they won’t have jobs come Jan. 2. It’s a rambling, scary speech that attacks an office his own father, the late Councilmember Goro Hokama, helped create as a source of professional, objective information that stood above partisan influence.
Anyway, here’s my own transcript of Hokama’s remarks from the Dec. 2 hearing:
Chairman, I appreciate the members’ comments so far. One thing I would say, though–we approved, I think, the latest hire we just approved went through a different process also, for our legislative position downstairs. One thing I just want to say: while we have procedures under state law–be they the federal government, the state government or the county government–under the legislative branches, our appointees are what is basically called ‘patronage.’ They serve at the pleasure of the majority of its members. Okay–at the pleasure of the majority of its members. I say that because we only can give appointment throughout the term we serve. And for me, it is one of the benefits that I get in picking who I feel serves not only myself as a member, but the body as a whole. And so for me, Chairman, I prefer the old way, myself. I pick who I want to hire. And if I got four other members that support it, great. And if not, then I’ll be open to who they want to recommend. But this is patronage–we hire who we believe can do the job best. And I’m not so much tied into the hiring process that I feel doesn’t serve the pleasure of the members. So, I say that because I want to be clear with our current employees, too: you’re only guaranteed until January 1. Don’t make assumptions you’ll be here on January 2nd. And, I would like to at least be asked for consideration of reappointment if you do want to continue working for the Council. ‘Cuz I cannot make an assumption you do. And until we have a better way of doing things, so that, as the colleague to the left of me says is the process. And where is my bloody evaluations of employee performances? Okay, If I’m [UNINTELLIGIBLE] going to make a judgment, I’m going to make a judgment through my experience and how I have worked through this past term with various employees. And I’ll be upfront: I am not a happy member. So that I will make my decision on January 2nd regarding certain employees. But I’m going to be upfront: at this point in time, I don’t feel support 100 percent. And I can support the nomination before me today, and one of the advantages I hope to get out of this is to finally understand what the letter ‘K’ stands for. Thank you, Chairman.
So… yeah. Oh, and if you’re curious about Hokama’s weird quest at the end to discover the secret of the letter “K,” he was apparently referring to Sandy Baz’s middle initial. Because really, that’s all anyone cares about anyway.
Photo of Riki Hokama courtesy County of Maui