Honolulu rail’s embattled CEO and executive director Dan Grabauskas resigned today, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s board chairwoman announced this morning.
Colleen Hanabusa announced the resignation after the board emerged from a private executive session at its regularly scheduled meeting downtown. Before today, the board had already spent more than 16 hours discussing the matter in private as part of Grabauskas’ annual review and given itself two 60-day extensions since April to keep those talks going.
Hanabusa said Grabauskas will get severance of $282,250 and that the board has executed a “separation agreement.” She said his last day on job is today but that the official separation date is in October.
Grabauskas, who had attended the meeting before the executive session, was not present when the resignation was announced.
Hanabusa also said that she will talk with Mayor Kirk Caldwell today about appointing Michael Formby, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services and a board member, as acting rail director while the board seeks a permanent replacement. Formby would step down from the HART board to take the interim appointment.
Hanabusa appointed board member Colbert Matsumoto as chairman of the search committee.
“We are very thankful to Dan for all of his years of dedicated service to the rail project,” Hanabusa said in a statement released by HART. “The project got off to a strong start because of his energy and enthusiasm. We wish him well.”
Grabauskas said in the HART news release, “It has been an honor and a pleasure to have worked on this transformational project for nearly 4-1/2 years. I believe in the project and its importance to the residents of Oahu, and by stepping aside today I hope to allow HART to move forward to ultimate success with fresh leadership.”
Grabauskas was in the second year of a three-year contract and earned $299,250 a year.
The estimated price tag for the rail project has skyrocketed in recent months as the recently reshuffled HART board spent hours at a time discussing Grabauskas’ job. The HART executive has attributed much of the escalating costs to the island’s red-hot construction market, which he’s pointed out has hit other building projects on Oahu as well. “It’s bad luck,” he said in June.
Nonetheless, some members on the board, led by Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa, and other island leaders have sharply criticized Grabauskas’ guidance in the past couple of years, as well as HART’s seeming inability to anticipate or warn the public of the skyrocketing costs.
In 2015, Grabauskas and rail officials told state lawmakers that a five-year rail tax extension would likely be more than enough to complete the project. It now faces a renewed deficit of at least $8.3 billion, according to the latest official estimates.
“Every step along the way, we’ve missed the numbers,” Formby said in June. In recent months Grabauskas has kept a lower profile at HART board meetings, often deferring to agency staff to answer all of the board’s questions. He’s also deferred to Hanabusa and Formby to handle most media queries, even though he traditionally handled that task before Hanabusa became chairwoman.
In April, City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, who at the time was considering a run against Mayor Kirk Caldwell, called on Grabauskas to resign. The rail agency director has affirmed that he wants to stay on, however. Caldwell has criticized Grabauskas, but he hasn’t called for Grabauskas’ resignation, saying it’s up to the board to decide.
Caldwell, who appointed Hanabusa to the board, did encourage the HART body last spring to look “long and hard” at what he felt were recent communication snafus. Hanabusa, a Democrat, is running to replace the late U.S. Rep. K. Mark Takai in Congress.
Former congressman and City Councilman Charles Djou, who looks to unseat Caldwell in this fall’s mayoral race, held a press conference Wednesday ahead of the HART meeting to call for Grabauskas’ dismissal. “The leadership of rail has been a complete disaster … and I think the dismissal … will be an important initial step to rebuilding trust in City Hall with this disastrous rail project,” Djou said.