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Future of Honolulu rail CEO uncertain after board fails to act

                                HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins


    HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins

Members of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit’s board of directors could not muster enough votes today to allow the contract of its CEO and executive director to expire at the end of the year, which it will anyway if no further agreement can be reached.

With the full board failing to follow the recommendation of its human resources committee, members did not even consider a second proposal to establish a group to consider a search for a new CEO and executive director for 2021, once Andrew Robbins’ current 3-year contract expires on Dec. 31.

What happens next is unclear.

The board’s counsel, deputy corporate counsel Randal Ishikawa, said it’s the purview of the board to hire its CEO and executive director, which it could do on an interim basis.

Vice chairman Terrence Lee said he had lost sleep over the issue of what to do with Robbins, the city’s highest-paid employee with an annual salary of $317,000 plus a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200-a-year transportation allowance plus the possibilities of raises and bonuses.

Lee appeared to change his initial vote during meetings of the human resources committee, which held four closed-door sessions evaluating Robbins between August and September.

In today’s open session, Lee voted against the HR committee’s recommendation and suggested that he might be willing to retain Robbins on a month-to-month basis, but not on another 3-year or even 5-year contract.

“In terms of Andy’s performance I will readily admit that there’s some decisions that Andy has made that I disagree with,” said Lee, the longest-serving member of the HART board. “On balance, in looking at where we were with this project and where we are today, notwithstanding the problems we have, Andy has done a good job in keeping this project on a more stable footing and a more predictable footing than we’ve ever had in the past. Yes, we’ve got some tremendous challenges, but I don’t fault Andy for creating these problems. These are problems that any CEO would have faced and, frankly, it’s not surprising for a project of this size and complexity. So going forward I believe it’s important to have stability.”

But Lynn McCrory, chairwoman of HART’s human resources committee, said the committee’s review of Robbins found a “multitude of issues that were brought up.”

She declined to discuss them in public, but said “there were many, many issues that were not positive but were negative in terms of the large projects or the small projects. There is a point in time when change is necessary.”

Robbins is HART’s sixth leader in its nine years and only the second to serve on a full-time basis overseeing the $9.2 billion rail project, the largest public works project in Hawaii history.

Along with the end of Robbins’ contract comes a critical deadline on Dec. 31 for HART to explain to Federal Transit Administration officials how it plans to pay for the final leg of construction with a partner that has yet to be identified under a so-called public-private partnership, or P3 agreement.

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