Maui police retirees, others oppose proposed 29% pay hike for new chief
Retirees with more than 25 years in Maui Police Department rallied today at Maui County Salary Commission to speak out against a proposed 29% pay hike for the department’s new chief.
Pointing to the lowest morale they’ve seen, retirees said officers are moved around the department without cause and others are leaving on unplanned retirements. They pleaded with the commission to decline MPD leadership raises, which they say will further erode morale.
“The retirees are all rallying around the men, they’re there to support them —my phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Butch Tam Ho, retired assistant chief with 30 years of service. “You are the check and balance. I beg you to stop this.”
The salary commission received information on salary reviews during its regular meeting today. It will discuss and possibly take action on salaries for department directors at the next regular meeting slated March 11, the agenda said.
Maui Police Commission recently recommended a 29% spike in pay for the department’s new chief, John Pelletier, who was sworn in Dec. 15 after moving from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. If approved by the salary commission, the chief’s salary will go from $158,851 to $205,000 and would rival the pay for Honolulu County, which is $205,800.
Citing cost of living and subordinates who make more, Pelletier during the police commission meeting Feb. 2 suggested a pay of $195,000.
Maui’s new deputy chief, Charles Hank III, who was brought by Pelletier from the same Mainland department, would also get an increase since a percentage of the chief’s pay determines the deputy’s salary.
Community leaders and everyday citizens voiced opposition to the proposal during the salary commission meeting today, with some saying people are furious over the plan during a time when the community and the department are struggling.
“Everybody I have talked to in the community is completely outraged,” said Matthew Nardi, a Haʻikū resident and Wailuku lawyer. “I think it’s a slap on the face to Maui County. It’s a punch in the stomach to the line officers who have been there for multiple years.”
Waiohuli resident Lana Low said it was her first time testifying at a meeting but she was compelled to speak out when she read about the proposal.
“He hasn’t even worked three months — most of us have a probationary period,” she said. “It’s a slap on the face to all the island people who work two to three jobs.”
About 20 people testified, with the majority against the chief’s proposed pay hike, during the online meeting that drew about 140 people at one point.
Four Maui police retirees testified about the dire situation within the department.
“Why are the upper echelon leaving? Why has there been a mass exodus of police officers?” asked Rick Martinez, a former Maui police lieutenant with 33 years in the department.
Retiree Marjorie Kahookele-Pea said she’s saddened for everyone left in the department.
“Officers are leaving faster than my entire 25-year career,” she said. “Something needs to be done, a raise is not it.”
Danny Dodds, who retired after 28 years with the department, said that someone needs to give the department hope.
“I’m getting countless phone calls from men and women; morale is at an all-time low,” he said. “Retirees all love the police department. I have nothing to gain right now, other than that I care about the department.”
MPD Sgt. Nick Krau, Maui chairman of the State of Hawaiʻi Organization of Police Officers union that represents local police, said senior leadership is leaving at “a disturbing and alarming rate.”
He added that officers have been without a contract for seven months, meaning there are no step increases or other pay boosts until it’s resolved.
“I think the timing of this request for a raise for the chief of police and deputy of the chief of police is very tasteless, and it’s even further impacting the already low morale of our police officers,” he said.
Police commission chairman Frank De Rego Jr. said today that he wanted to clarify that neither the commission nor the chief initiated discussions on salary.
“I think there’s a really big misconception that the police chief and the commission sort of voluntarily entered into this process,” he said. “This is part of a process that is initiated by the salary commission.”
De Rego Jr. added that the commission was tasked with helping find a benchmark for pay.
“The task of the Maui Police Commission as we saw it was to establish a benchmark for the salary of the chief of police in the estimation of the commission,” he said. “The presentation by the chief provided a current, helpful baseline of information to determine what that baseline might be. Let me repeat that: We were asked to benchmark the position, separating it from the individual.”
The volunteer-based salary commission determines the compensation of elected officials, department heads and first deputies or first assistants of all county departments.