Mayor Kirk Caldwell today asked the Honolulu Salary Commission to not recommend pay raises for himself or other top city officials, a 180-degree switch from comments three of his cabinet members made a week ago.
“Our battle against this COVID-19 virus requires all of our energy and attention right now,” Caldwell said in a statement. “So many on O‘ahu are worried about how they will pay their rent or if they will have a job to go back to once things open back up. We can reevaluate things like salary for City officials and the appropriate departments once this pandemic is over, but right now is not the time.”
The commission is tasked with reviewing the pay of the mayor, City Council members, cabinet directors and other top officials annually, and has a May 1 deadline annually to submit a recommendation for the following year. Its next — and final — meeting is slated for April 16.
A commission subcommittee on Feb. 28 voted to recommend 3% raises for most city executives, including the mayor and Council members. The recommendations become law unless specifically rejected by the Council.
The full commission, which last met April 3, received written testimony from three different Caldwell cabinet members that made it clear the administration did not oppose the raises and, in the case of Human Resources Carolee Kubo, supported the pay plan.
“Our Department Heads and Deputies have a wide scope of responsibility, are committed and hardworking and are deserving of the increases proposed by your Permitted Interaction Group,” Kubo wrote in two separate letters.
Additionally, Kubo asked that the commission provide raises for the city corporation counsel and the bandmaster for the Royal Hawaiian Band, for whom the subcommittee recommended no raises. Kubo urged the commission to provide increases for the two positions commensurate to the jobs.
Managing Director Roy Amemiya, in a separate communication, urged the commission to reconsider its decision to not provide a raise to the Royal Hawaiian Band director, pointing out that Bandmaster Clarke Bright has a taxing set of responsibilities, managing 32 members and overseeing more than 300 performances annually.
Acting Corporation Counsel Paul Aoki, meanwhile, argued that the position he is holding should be given a pay raise similar to other city officials. “I submit that a 3% increase is reasonable and on the low end of the range,” Aoki wrote.
The commission received one letter from the public opposing the pay raise plan.
Susan Malterre-Htun noted that the coronavirus outbreak is causing an unprecedented number of Hawaii residents to file for unemployment.
“How unthinking to call for a public hearing for raises for employed personnel amid huge layoffs causing genuine suffering for the tax payers” Malterre-Htun wrote. “The money that this notice proposes to be paid for salary increases from July 1, 2020 should be used to help those residents of the City and County of Honolulu in need as a result of this pandemic.”
A written summary, or unadopted minutes, of the April 3 meeting shows that Commissioner Brian Tamamoto urged Commission Chairman Kevin Sakamoto to place on the April 16 agenda a proposal for a zero percent increase across all positions.
Tamamoto, the commission’s vice chairman, stated that he and other members of the permitted interaction group drew up their recommendations in February without consideration given to the impacts of the epidemic, the summary said.