Since the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has been my Ohana for almost four years, I take it as a personal affront when poorly conceived bills like Senate Bill 772 and House Bill 1501 are introduced. All these bills would do is to further discourage good people from working at the PUC or qualified Commissioners to serve, thereby making it extremely difficult for the new Chair to staff up and move forward.
When I became the Chair in 2011 a primary objective was to build the staff capacity to meet the challenges of an energy transformation. I was fortunate to start with a core group of dedicated public servants. I was able to augment that team with eager young professionals (found some older ones too) wanting to make a difference in the energy sector. What I was not prepared for was the Department of Budget & Finance bureaucratic nightmare when trying to implement the PUC reorganization and updating things like job descriptions and salary structures (to reward performance and longevity) – or the politics, making it difficult to retain good employees.
The problem here is not public utilities “stealing” PUC employees. The problem is the PUC not paying fair compensation for experience, knowledge and other skill sets so valuable in a practice area that has a very small pool of potential candidates. The operative phase here is “a very small pool of qualified candidates.” The PUC has to compete with other agencies and the private sector (including a public utility) within this small pool. Why would anyone (even a clerk or secretary) choose to work at the PUC knowing his or her future employment opportunities will be restricted? Besides one should question if such restrictions on employment in a limited marketplace like Hawaii would even be constitutional.
Although I was always disappointed and sad to see good employees leave the PUC, I don’t buy into Henry Curtis’ suspicion of ulterior motives, which is what these bills reflect. I personally know that PUC employees who applied for and accepted jobs at a public utility understood the PUC’s mission of aligning a public utility’s purpose and performance to serve the public and have carried forward this ethos.