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Response to pandemic will likely derail planned pay raises for city leaders

Honolulu Hale is closed to visitors. The city previously shuttered larger venues, including the...
Honolulu Hale is closed to visitors. The city previously shuttered larger venues, including the Blaisdell Center, and canceled large events. April 1, 2020(Jonathan Jared Saupe / Digital Content Creator / Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Apr. 9, 2020 at 11:44 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - While the public was barred from Honolulu Hale last Friday due to the coronavirus crisis, members of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s cabinet voiced their support for 3% pay raises for themselves, the mayor and other city leaders.

Since that was reported by HNN, the mayor on Thursday sent the commission a letter formally requesting that no raises be recommended.

“Our economy and tourism, our major economic driver, have been seriously affected to date. Many residents have become unemployed and are in dire need of financial and other assistance," the mayor wrote.

"Based on the current situation in Hawaii, any salary increase should not be considered, much like in 2013. In 2013, despite being granted an increase, my cabinet and I voluntarily took a reduction in pay of 5% due to economic conditions at that time.”

On Friday, the Honolulu Salary Commission was holding its third public hearing of the year, seeking comments on the raise proposal which came from a commission subcommittee on Feb. 28.

It recommended the 3% increase pretty much across the board for councilmembers and city department heads.

The hearing, held in an empty Council chamber, only one member of the public opposed the raises. But members of the commission conceded that the crisis would likely make any raises unlikely.

In testimony submitted via email, Susan Malterre-Htun pointed out that while city employees are being paid tens of thousands of Hawaii residents have been laid off.

“How unthinking to call for a public hearing for raises for employed personnel amid huge layoffs causing genuine suffering for the tax payers," she 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. I strongly advocate cancelling this hearing and no pay increases at this time.”

In contrast, City Human Resource Director Carolee Kubo, wrote:

“Our department heads and deputy have a wide scope of responsibility, are committed and hardworking and are deserving of the increases proposed."

Under the proposal, which would take effect with the new fiscal year which begins in July, the Mayor’s salary would rise from $186,432 to $192,024. Councilmembers, who are technically part-time, would see their pay rise from $68,904 to $70,968. The only raise higher than three percent was about 11 percent for the Deputy Medical Examiner, who would earn $303,840.

The 3% increase was nearly across the board, but three positions ― prosecuting attorney, Corporation Counsel and the Royal Hawaiian Band director — would not receive raises.

The commission is scheduled to make its final recommendation to the City Council at another meeting April 16. But at Friday’s meeting, member Brian Tamamoto pointed out that “when the proposal was made the COVID virus was not a consideration and was not even discussed."

He continued: "Never was there any consideration about any kind of economic impact to the city of Honolulu the state and the nation. It would be incumbent upon us to use our common sense at this point to consider all these factors as we move forward.”

Tamamoto proposed that an option to vote for no raises be included on the April 16 agenda.

Commission Chairman Kevin Sakamoto agreed and said, “We were unaware of the economic impact that has taken on a life of its own to date.”

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