The Honolulu Salary Commission is recommending 5 percent raises for the mayor, police chief and other top city officials.

The commission’s recommendation will raise Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s salary to $173,184 and Fire Chief Manuel Neves’ to $185,112.   The new police chief is set to make $191,184.  Council members would have their salaries raised to $64,000.

The highest paid official on the list is the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Christopher Happy. Under the new salary recommendations, Happy would make $288,000 annually.

In total, the new salaries for the 49 officials whose pay is set by the commission will cost the city about $7 million in the next fiscal year, a $336,000 increase from last year.

Unless the City Council rejects the recommendations, the new salaries will go into effect on July 1.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell rail tax presser after House/Senate lawmakers agreed on bill . 28 april 2017
Mayor Kirk Caldwell would make more than $173,000 under the new salary recommendations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The commission passed its recommendations in late April, around the time that two of Hawaii’s largest public workers unions — the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Hawaii State Teachers Association — negotiated raises for their members. HGEA employees will receive 6 to 7 percent pay hikes over two years, while  teachers will receive 13.6 percent over four years.

There have been sporadic years when these officials received no increases.

Notably, no position except for the vacant medical examiner and deputy medical examiner jobs received a raise between 2009 and 2011. The mayor, prosecuting attorney and the City Council didn’t get pay raises between 2009 and 2012, the year before Caldwell took office.

In 2013, Caldwell rejected his pay raise recommended by the commission, instead taking a voluntary 5 percent pay cut. Since then, the commission has recommended a pay raise for Caldwell every year he’s been in office.

Caldwell declined the commission’s recommended raises in 2013 and again in 2014, “citing the sacrifices civil servant employees had made with smaller contract raises during lean economic years preceding his first term,” wrote Andrew Pereira, the mayor’s spokesman, in an email to Civil Beat.

Caldwell has accepted the full recommended salary since 2015 after union raises were approved, Pereira added.

The mayor and other top officials have not had a formal pay cut since at least 1988, according to DHR figures.

Who Sets The Salaries?

The seven-member commission was created in 1993 to set salaries for top elected and appointed city officials.

The commission must forward a salary proposal to the mayor and City Council each year by May.

Usually a three-member panel makes recommendations to the full commission. In the past year, two of the panel members, Gerald Takeuchi and Guy Tajiri, were appointed to the commission by Caldwell. Sakamoto, the current chair of the commission, was also appointed to the commission by the mayor.

Honolulu City Council wide inauguration. 3 jan 2017
Salary increases don’t need the Honolulu City Council’s approval, but the council can reject the recommendations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

As long as the salary proposal is not voted down by at least seven members of the city council, the new salaries will go into effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. According to the Honolulu City Charter, the salaries go into effect in 60 days if no action is taken.

“The Council can reject the Salary Commission’s recommendations in part or in full. In 2013, the Council rejected salary increases for themselves. A year earlier, in 2012, the Council rejected increases for themselves and for the Prosecuting Attorney, citing affordability concerns,” Sakamoto wrote in an email.

Those are the only times since 2012 that the Honolulu City Council has opposed a salary increase for any position. The spreadsheet provided by Sakamoto below details the salary increases that the commission has made since 2012.

Year 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Council Chair $58,596 $58,596 $63,288 $64,872 $68,112 $71,520
Councilmembers $52,446 $52,446 $56,640 $58,056 $60,960 $64,008
Mayor $136,428 $141,888 $153,240 $157,080 $164,928 $173,184
Managing Director $130,534 $135,744 $146,592 $150,264 $157,776 $165,672
Deputy Managing Director $123,724 $128,664 $138,960 $142,440 $149,568 $157,056
Prosecuting Attorney $129,312 $134,496 $145,248 $148,872 $156,312 $164,136
First Deputy Prosecuting Atty $122,957 $127,872 $138,096 $141,552 $148,632 $156,072
Department Heads $121,894 $126,768 $136,920 $140,352 $147,360 $154,728
Deputy Department Heads $115,677 $120,312 $129,936 $133,176 $139,824 $146,808
Police Chief $143,729 $151,632 $164,376 $173,424 $182,088 $191,184
Deputy Police Chiefs $137,082 $144,624 $156,768 $165,384 $173,664 $182,352
Fire Chief $141,685 $147,360 $159,144 $167,904 $176,304 $185,112
Deputy Fire Chiefs $135,133 $140,544 $151,776 $160,128 $168,144 $176,544
Band Director $116,088 $118,416 $120,792 $123,816 $130,008 $136,512
Medical Examiner $200,016 $250,008 $255,000 $261,384 $274,464 $288,192
Deputy Medical Examiner $129,168 $200,016 $204,024 $209,136 $219,600 $230,592


Why The Increase?

Sakamoto said that the commission considers three factors when determining salaries — what do other cities pay, inflation and whether key staff make more money than their bosses.

In the past, the commission looked at salaries in cities such as Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tacoma and Seattle.

Officials of some cities and counties make significantly less than than those in Honolulu. Tacoma’s mayor will see his pay drop to $76,000 in 2018. But officials in larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco take home checks that tower over their Honolulu counterparts. In San Francisco, the mayor and council members make $289,000 and $116,167 respectively.

But the biggest problem for most departments is employees that make more money than department heads — a factor known as inversion.

For example, Sakamoto said that the Honolulu Police Department consistently has many assistants who make more money than the chief and deputies because of overtime work.

Sakamoto doesn’t believe that problem will be remedied anytime soon. To make pay comparable to positions, the Salary Commission will increase pay incrementally over the coming years to balance official’s pay against subordinates. He also said the commission is considering a statute that would require department heads be paid a certain percentage more than their highest paid employee. There have been no formal steps toward making that law, however.

Sakamoto said that the majority of subordinates that receive more pay than top officials are “long tenured employees that get increases at different and, at times, higher rates from collective bargaining.”

The Salary Commission met in the midst of union negotiations for higher contracts. This year, each of Hawaii’s six public workers unions will be involved in contract negotiations for their employees, many of whom work for some of the highest paid city officials.

According to minutes from a Feb. 28 meeting, Takeuchi said that the three-person panel, known as Permitted Interaction Group (PIG) considered pay increases as high as 10 percent. They settled at 5 percent because they felt that “would be close to what the bargaining units would receive.”

HPD Chief Louis Kealoha gestures during Police Commission meeting 2016. 7 sept 2016
Former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha’s pay surpassed Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s in 2012. The next police chief is set to make $191,184. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

These pay increases come at a time when public concern has grown over the city’s spending habits as well as the media coverage of former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who retired earlier this year, with a $250,000 payout, after he became the subject of a U.S. Justice Department probe. Last Tuesday, The Honolulu City Council Budget Committee moved forward several measures that would increase fees for parking meters and bus fares, a move that drew the ire of some people in attendance.

But the commission doesn’t consider public sentiment in its decisions. The Honolulu City Charter states that they must “set salaries in accordance with the principles of adequate compensation for work performed, and preservation of a sensible relationship with the salaries of other city employees.”

“Our charter is really to make recommendations for positions under our purview…We can’t take into consideration public sentiment on performance,” Sakamoto said. “But you can’t help but be influenced.”

The salaries for elected and appointed city officials since 1988 can be found below.


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