Taxpayers tell Kokua Line they’re frustrated that some government services remain severely disrupted months into the pandemic. The complaint we hear most often is that the state unemployment office still isn’t meeting with jobless individuals in person, even by appointment. We also get Auwes from people who can’t get through to the Internal Revenue Service (we’ll devote a separate column to that) or who are upset that Honolulu County hasn’t resumed road tests (or approved an alternative) for drivers seeking a full license. Those are just a few of the problems we hear about. Readers want assurances that their tax dollars are being spent wisely — that government agencies are doing all they can to provide efficient service in the “new normal” of the COVID-19 era.
To that end, Kokua Line emailed Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office on May 27 and Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s office on May 28, asking how county and state employees, respectively, are deployed. The mayor’s office provided detailed answers on Wednesday. The governor’s office had not responded by deadline Saturday, other than to say that someone would follow up.
Here’s information from the city’s Department of Human Resources, via Alexander C. Zannes, Caldwell’s spokesman.
Question: How many employees does the City and County of Honolulu have all together?
Answer: “As of May 27, the City and County of Honolulu executive branch employed 11,105 (including those employed in a permanent, temporary, or exempt position, and personal services contracts).”
Q: How many city employees are being paid but are not working?
A: “As of May 18, no employees are on paid administrative leave while being directed or assigned to stay home (not work) because of COVID-19. Some emergency responders/health care providers (sworn police officers, police radio dispatchers, uniformed fire fighters, uniformed emergency medical services personnel, and emergency management personnel) employees may receive paid administrative leave if they are directed to self-quarantine while seeking a medical diagnosis after experiencing a work-related exposure to COVID-19, but these are rare, isolated circumstances.”
Q: How many city employees are being paid to work from home?
A: “As of the date this inquiry was received, approximately 818 city employees were approved to telecommute (including those who are approved to work from home as a medical accommodation due to an underlying condition which may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act). The majority who are approved to telecommute work from home on only a part-time or rotating basis, and report to work at their regularly assigned pre-pandemic office or work site(s) on days they are not working from home.”
Q: How many city employees are being paid to do their jobs as usual (from the office or their regular pre-pandemic location)?
A: “The vast majority of city employees (excepting those described above who are telecommuting and those on approved leave, including but not limited to vacation, sick, compensatory time-off, leave without pay, or paid leave mandated by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act) are currently reporting to their jobs as usual (at their regular pre-pandemic work locations).”
Q: Are the city’s managers/executives/elected leaders … satisfied with the pace of reopening (service resumption) thus far?
A: “The city has put a lot of effort and care in attempting to balance the needs of the public for government services with our responsibility to protect the public from this virus while also giving appropriate consideration to the health concerns of our employees during this unprecedented situation. At the initial outset of this crisis, many of our employees were directed to stay home or work from home; however, we have made it a priority to return employees safely to work as quickly as possible and return to normal city operations to the extent it is possible to resume services in a safe manner.”
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.