City and County of Honolulu Government

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Honolulu has been the seat of government in Hawaii since 1850, when King Kamehameha III proclaimed it the capital of his kingdom.

Honolulu remained the center of island politics even after the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown and Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. in 1898. Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1900. It would be another five years before the Territorial Legislature created five counties in a law that became the basis for Hawaii’s modern municipal governments. Four counties, including the County of Oahu, were governed by elected Boards of Supervisors, with the state retaining control of most county functions.

In 1907, the County of Oahu was renamed the City and County of Honolulu and the office of mayor was added to the Board of Supervisors. Democrat James Fern, a self-taught shipping master for the Inter-Island Steamship Co. and a member of the Board of Supervisors, became Honolulu’s first mayor in 1908, winning over Republican John Lane by seven votes. Lane defeated Fern in 1915 and served for two years before Fern was re-elected, serving until 1919.

In 1959, Hawaii became a state and the Hawaii Legislature granted home rule to the counties. In Honolulu, this meant adoption of a city charter that created a mayor-council government structure. The mayor serves as chief executive officer of the city, with responsibilities that include supervision of the executive agencies responsible for public safety and welfare; culture and recreation; community and human development; citizen participation; and general government operations. A nine-member city council is responsible for legislative and investigative functions. All offices are nonpartisan and candidates are elected to four-year terms for a maximum of two consecutive terms. Elections are conducted by the city clerk every two years.

Because city elections are nonpartisan, the voters can choose from all candidates for each Honolulu office during the primary election. A candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote wins outright in the primary, otherwise the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election.

Salaries of elected and appointed officials and are set by the Honolulu Salary Commission.

The City Council must approve each year’s budget by June 15.

The mayor, city council and their appointees hold much of the power in Honolulu. Public worker unions, which represent many of the city’s essential workers, also wield significant influence. Lobbyists for public utilities, prominent developers and large landowners also have a voice in city planning and growth. Elected neighborhood board members serve in an advisory capacity, bringing the issues that impact their communities to the attention of government officials.

Kirk Caldwell is the current mayor of Honolulu. In the August 2012 primary election, Caldwell, the former city managing director, received 29 percent of the vote, beating Peter Carlisle who received just under 25 percent. Caldwell then defeated Ben Cayetano in the November 6, 2012 general election.

City and County of Honolulu Government
Honolulu Council Sends Sprinkler Retrofit Bill To Advisory Panel Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Honolulu Council Sends Sprinkler Retrofit Bill To Advisory Panel

A new committee will study which high rises are at greatest risk, fire safety technology and financial incentives for condo owners.

The Trouble With Trash For Local Volunteers Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Trouble With Trash For Local Volunteers

The city has one disposal location for nonprofits throwing out trash from cleanups of public areas, but nonprofits say it’s too far too drive.

Audit: Some Honolulu Garbage Workers Take Excessive Sick Leave, OT Department of Environmental Services

Audit: Some Honolulu Garbage Workers Take Excessive Sick Leave, OT

The Department of Environmental Services lacks the resources to ensure residents follow the rules, a city audit found.

As Some Oahu Cemeteries Run Out Of Space, City OKs Expansion Courtney Teague/Civil Beat

As Some Oahu Cemeteries Run Out Of Space, City OKs Expansion

UPDATED 8/10/2017: Honolulu Council members vote to allow Kaneohe’s Hawaiian Memorial Park to grow by 28 acres.

Who Will Step Up To Save The ‘Stairway To Heaven’? Flickr

Who Will Step Up To Save The ‘Stairway To Heaven’?

So far no agency is willing to take on responsibility for the Haiku Stairs, a legendary hiking destination, from the Board of Water Supply.

Council Members Put Mayor’s Call For Sprinkler Retrofitting On Hold Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Council Members Put Mayor’s Call For Sprinkler Retrofitting On Hold

They approve a call for a fire safety group established more than 10 years ago to reconvene.

Honolulu City Council May Seek Crackdown On Waikiki ‘Floatilla’ Events Courtesy of Department of Land and Natural Resources

Honolulu City Council May Seek Crackdown On Waikiki ‘Floatilla’ Events

Councilman Trevor Ozawa wants the state to ban offshore alcohol use and disorderly behavior at holiday weekend events.

Honolulu Weighs Property Tax Increase For Owners Of Historic Homes Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu Weighs Property Tax Increase For Owners Of Historic Homes

Several people testified against the proposal, saying low taxes help with the cost of maintaining the homes.

Honolulu City Council May Expand Its Plastic Bag Ban Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu City Council May Expand Its Plastic Bag Ban

After a year of negotiations, Councilman Brandon Elefante, the bill’s author, is hopeful it will be approved Wednesday.

Honolulu May Allow Transportation Companies To Regulate Waikiki Streets Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu May Allow Transportation Companies To Regulate Waikiki Streets

A special improvement district with private financing would be tasked with reducing congestion in Oahu’s busiest tourist area.

Homeless And Community Service Workers Considered For Park Cleanup Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Homeless And Community Service Workers Considered For Park Cleanup

Honolulu City Council members hear ideas for employing the homeless and getting “free labor” from court-ordered workers.

What Honolulu Lobbyists Don’t Tell You Cory Lum/Civil Beat

What Honolulu Lobbyists Don’t Tell You

The Ethics Commission chief says the city should “completely overhaul” how it tracks the spending of money to influence leaders.