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Panel endorses pay raises for top Honolulu officials

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The Honolulu Salary Commission on Tuesday recommended pay boosts of 12.5% and greater for the city’s mayor and department heads and a 60.2% pay jump for the leader of the Honolulu City Council.

At its meeting Tuesday the commission unanimously recommended pay raises — which must receive City Council approval to take effect — that would see the mayor’s annual salary rise to $209,856 from its current $186,432. The yearly salary for the City Council chair — the seat that leads the nine-member panel — would see its current pay of $76,968 boosted to $123,292, while an individual Council member salary would jump to $113,292 from $68,904, a 64.4% increase.

In particular, the Salary Commission’s recommendations followed initial options to raise the annual pay for the Council by nearly 100%, or $135,000 — which, according to city staff, would match 120% of the area median income for a family of four. Initially, the Council chair’s position also would have matched 120% AMI for a family of four plus $10,000 for $145,000, an 89.6% increase.

Prior to its vote, many, including Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and city Managing Director Michael Formby, told the commission such pay hikes were necessary to recruit and retain city workers — many of whom were short-term appointees — to live and work in expensive Honolulu.

“It’s hard to get people to leave the private sector to come to an appointed job that is not a civil service job,” Formby said. “Many people think that appointees are civil servants, but they are not. They are outside the civil service system, which means they don’t have the job security associated with the civil service system.”

He added that the mayor’s term will last for only a maximum of eight years, and those short-term appointees do not benefit from pensions.

Members of the public also testified in support of higher salaries for City Council members and other officials. Those in support included members of the building and developer groups.

“I feel as a community member it makes strides to more fairly compensate all of our elected and appointed officials,” said Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, chief operating officer of The Kobayashi Group. “I’m 100% supportive of all the recommended increases.”

Others, like Jasmine Torres, opposed such pay hikes — in particular, increasing salaries to the elected members of the City Council.

“I just ask that you think about how many people your raise could help and what the money could do for the greater public,” Torres said via remote testimony. “We’re all just making a living wage here. A close to 100% pay increase is ridiculous.”

In the end, the members of the Salary Commission chose to go with lower pay amounts — in part, using pay options advanced by the commission’s subcommittee — as well as noting the difficulty of living in an expensive city.

Meanwhile, Honolulu’s mayor and Council were not alone in seeing proposed pay raises.

Under the recommendations, elected and appointed department heads and their deputies also would see 12.56% pay raises. They include $200,712 for the managing director’s position over the current $178,320, and the elected prosecuting attorney’s pay would rise to $198,888 over the position’s current $176,000. The chief of police would see a pay bump to $231,648 from the current annual pay of $205,800, while the fire chief would get $224,304 over the current $199,272.

After the meeting, Nola Miyasaki, the director of the city Department of Human Resources, said the Salary Commission had not raised pay for department heads and its top elected officials in years.

“In 2020, 2021, and 2022, the Commission recommended no salary adjustments,” Miyasaki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser via email. “The driving factor for the increases currently being considered are the collectively bargained salary increases provided to city employees in the most recent round of negotiations and arbitrations.”

She added that “those increases, in addition to the inversion and the compression of salaries between civil service positions and elected/appointed positions, have been reviewed by the Commission in determining their recommendations on raises for elected and appointed officials.”

Miyasaki added that most of the city’s 21 department directors earn an average annual salary of $166,560.

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