Peter Boylan is best known in Hawaii as a political operative, the former deputy chief of staff to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and campaign spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s failed Senate bid last year.
But as of Monday, Boylan is the Honolulu City Council’s housing coordinator, a newly created position aimed at helping the Council address the city’s lack of affordable housing.
Boylan earns $84,000 per year in his new job, and reports to Council Chair Ernie Martin. Boylan is on a personal services contract through June 30, 2016.
Martin wouldn’t say whether the position was advertised publicly so that other people could apply, but few personal services contracts are advertised.
Boylan’s job description includes advising the Council on policy recommendations related to housing and homelessness and the use of the city’s affordable housing fund, and maintaining relationships with government agencies, the business community and nonprofits.
Most recently, Boylan was executive assistant to Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, who is under investigation for using tens of thousands of dollars of county funds for personal purposes.
While Boylan has wide-ranging experience in government and communications, his LinkedIn profile is devoid of any specific experience in housing or homelessness. Martin didn’t reply to a request for Boylan’s resume.
Martin also refused to answer questions about why Boylan was hired or what the Council expects the position to achieve, despite over a week of emails, phone messages and in-person visits.
Local political analyst and University of Hawaii professor Neal Milner thinks the appointment raises red flags, given Boylan’s experience as a political operative and Martin’s political ambitions. The Council chair told Hawaii News Now last week that he plans to run for mayor, either next year or later.
“People are going to look at this and say (Boylan’s) skills are basically being a political operator and all I can say is that’s exactly correct,” Milner said. “No way around that.”
Milner said his broader concern is the issue of homelessness being used to manifest rivalry between the City Council and the mayor.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a political operative if that’s what you’re getting paid for,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any other obvious reason for why he was hired for the job and as long as there’s no obvious reason, people are going to come to the conclusion that it’s political in a bad sense.”
Boylan declined to speak on the record about his relevant experience for the new job, but he issued a statement saying he’s looking forward to working with the City Council, the Mayor’s Office and the Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness.
“Oahu’s housing crisis is a tragedy affecting too many families and hardworking individuals and the lack of affordable units threatens to push a much bigger problem onto future generations,” Boylan wrote. “We need to take immediate action to address the current public health and safety risk to the community and explore every available option, at the county, state, and federal level, to get people off the street and make home ownership in Hawaii a realistic goal for low income and middle class families.”
Hawaii Pacific University professor John Hart wonders why Boylan’s job exists at all.
“The City Council is a body that sets policy, it doesn’t execute policy, so I think it’s a legitimate question why they need their own housing coordinator,” Hart said. “We’ve got someone in a position we’re not sure why it exists and a candidate with no obvious credentials … I think there’s speculation that he’s basically being put on retainer if you will so he’ll be there to help Martin’s campaign for mayor.”
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who leads the Council Budget Committee, said Boylan’s position was created to help the Council address the island’s housing shortage and keep an eye on how Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration is spending money set aside for housing and homelessness.
“We want to make sure that the money is put to good use,” she said.
Kobayashi added that the Council is trying to stay above politics and the rivalry between Caldwell and Martin.
“Whether (Martin) runs or not, we just have to solve these problems,” she said.
Read the job description for Boylan’s position below: