Despite outrage, hefty raise for City Council members still alive

Many members of the community gave passionate testimonies against the raise Wednesday afternoon.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 5:44 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 13, 2023 at 12:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The controversial 64% raise for City Council members is still slated to take effect without a vote in about three weeks.

Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday to testify against the raise, which was related to two bills before the council.

One measure was the legislative budget. Council budget chair Radiant Cordero tried to introduce an amendment that would cap salaries at this year’s level, but the effort failed

The vote to approve the legislative budget was 7-2, with council members Augie Tulba and Andria Tupola voting “no.”

The council also approved a measure to ban its members from holding outside jobs, with Tulba and Tupola also voting against it.

Council Chair Tommy Waters and member Esther Kiaaina proposed the income ban after being criticized for supporting the raise to $113,000 a year.

“The idea is to get council members to work full-time here at Honolulu Hale and devote 150% of their efforts into policymaking that affect the lives of our people who live on this island,” Waters said.

Neighborhood boards speak out on ‘absurd’ pay raise proposal for City Councilmembers

Waters said the outside income ban has two vehicles: A bill that would have an immediate impact once approved and a resolution for a charter amendment that would need voter approval and not take effect until 2025.

He said he prefers the charter amendment route.

Ewa Council Member Tulba would be the most affected. His entertainment career brought in over $100,000 last year.

He said the income ban proposal is a poorly-conceived effort to distract from the pay raise.

“The whole point is this bill does not address full time, part time, does not address vacation, does not address when do you campaign, does not address what I do in my private time, Saturday and Sunday,” he said.

Tupola asked, “What would be the penalty? A misdemeanor? Would it be a fine that would be every day until you quit your job? What would it really look like and does it solve the bigger issue of why we are raising salaries one time for 64%?”

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science professor, said the income ban was clearly offered to soften opposition to the raise.

“It is a way to provide an answer to voters who are going to be I think, rightfully pretty angry,” Moore said. “To say, Well, we did this but now we’ve banned outside employment.”

The raise approved by the Honolulu Salary Commission will take effect unless the council turns it down with at least a seven vote super majority.

Tupola and Tulba introduced a resolution to reject the council raise, and Tupola held out hope that such a vote could be held by the June 25 deadline.

But Waters said he is “holding the line” and not referring the measure for a vote.

Many members of the public voiced their anger during the marathon council meeting.

“You’ve shown us your greed and your selfishness, and how you have neglected the very people that put you in,” said one woman.

“We will recall all seven of you, and I’m going to lead that effort personally,” said raise opponent Jack James.

Moore said council leaders may be underestimating the political damage of accepting the raise.

“If they think that voters are going to forget, I think they’re sorely mistaken,” Moore said. “This sort of thing is the vote that will haunt you for the rest of your political career.”

Waters said voting on their own salaries is a conflict of interest and the raise is justified by the job’s hours, complexity and responsibility. He also said he believes members can survive the voters’ anger.

“I’m confident that if council members devote their 100% effort to making good solid ordinances, laws and policy, that we will earn people’s trust, if we haven’t already,” Waters said.