Despite firm rebukes from Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu City Council, the Honolulu Salary Commission is scheduled Thursday to consider voting on a recommendation that would give most top city officials a 3% pay raise July 1.
But Commission Chairman Kevin Sakamoto said Tuesday that the idea of recommending no raises — in the face of an anticipated economic downturn due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak — is also on Thursday’s agenda.
The 1:30 p.m. meeting at the City Council’s third-floor chambers at Honolulu Hale is public, but no oral testimony is being accepted. The meeting is not being broadcast live.
As has been the case since last week, noncity employees entering City Hall will need to submit a form of identification for a visitor’s pass at a security desk. Those attending will need to adhere to proper social distancing guidelines.
Sakamoto told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday that he interprets the commission’s meeting as an essential government function and therefore allowed under the “stay-at-home, work-from-home” mandate issued March 23 by the mayor.
Community advocate Natalie Iwasa said she’s not happy that people won’t be able to testify in person. As with Council meetings, the public needs to be able to comment on amendments to proposals or measures that may be raised suddenly, she said.
“Watching a live meeting can provide additional information that is not available at the time an agenda is posted,” Iwasa said. “By not allowing any public testimony whatsoever, they are cutting that part of public participation out of the process. It’s one of the ways we hold our elected officials and appointed officials accountable. Especially with this particular issue, people are very upset that this would even be proposed.”
A subcommittee of the commission submitted its 3% salary plan in February, before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
Sakamoto said that while the 3% pay raise plan will be discussed, “the full commission is aware of how the environment has changed, which will likely result in deliberation at the final meeting.”
Commission Vice Chairman Brian Tamamoto, a member of the subcommittee, recommended that a 0% increase plan also be considered Thursday, which is scheduled to be the panel’s last meeting for the year.
Discussion on the economic impacts of the pandemic tops Thursday’s discussion agenda. “We will use this section of the agenda to address the entire economic situation of which a 0% increase could be introduced as a formal motion,” Sakamoto said.
Ultimately, it is up to the City Council to accept or reject the commission’s recommendation.
A public firestorm ensued after a Hawaii News Now story pointed out that the commission received written testimony in support of the raises, as well as requests to include raises for agency chiefs not recommended for pay increases, from three top Caldwell Cabinet officials.
Caldwell quickly submitted his own written testimony in opposition to the raises in the wake of the pandemic. “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,” he wrote.
The mayor reiterated his concerns Tuesday when asked about the issue at a news conference. Caldwell said he would be surprised if the commission voted for pay raises.
Even if the commission votes to approve a pay raise, he doubts the Council would accept it, Caldwell said.
In testimony submitted late last week, Council leaders suggested as much.
“In light of our present situation, the Honolulu City Council will very likely reject all pay increase recommendations of any amount for City and County elected officials and department heads,” said the letter, signed by Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson, Vice Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi and Floor Leader Carol Fukunaga.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, separately, also publicly urged the commission reject any raises and said she would vote against a pay increase.
Sakamoto said, “We (all commissioners) are listening to the concerns and will take full consideration (testimony) from the Mayor, City Council and the public in coming to a final recommendation.”