In his first year on the job, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Andrew Robbins delivered some “notable achievements” — but he did not fully meet expectations and has room for growth, the local rail agency’s board found.

After several months of closed-door deliberations, its members opted Thursday not to give Robbins a raise for his second year leading the $9.3 billion rail project.

They did, however, give him a $10,000 bonus.

Robbins had been eligible for a bonus of up to $47,550, or 15 percent of his base salary. The evaluation covers the first year in his three-year contract to serve as HART’s executive director.

“I don’t want it to be construed as a lack of confidence in Andy,” HART board Vice Chairman Terrence Lee said Thursday of the evaluation, which the board discussed publicly with Robbins’ consent.  

HART Andrew Robbins speaks during Kapolei Hale meeting.
HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins wanted his performance evaluation to be made public. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We still have a high level of confidence and support for Andy. It’s just we’re just being a little more hard-nosed in terms of requiring actual performance metrics be hit” than in previous years, Lee said.

The board’s review, which Robbins shared with local media, touted his holding rail to its $8.16 billion construction budget — the same amount as when he was hired. The Federal Transit Administration believes the project will cost closer to $8.3 billion to build, but HART insists it can complete the work within the existing budget. (The $9.3 billion total price tag includes financing costs.)

The board further highlighted Robbins’ work to steer rail’s remaining $1.4 billion or so in major construction toward a public-private partnership model, while simultaneously overseeing the project’s existing construction contracts.

“Robbins did a commendable job of getting up-to-speed and taking control of this high-profile, complex program,” the review stated. He “has proven a quick study.”

The report added, however, that Robbins needs to do a better job engaging with the public and communicating rail’s eventual benefits. It further found that Robbins needs to improve his general management of the project.

“Reports, permitting requests and issues for Board decision were not always being submitted sufficiently in advance for proper consideration,” the report said.

At Thursday’s meeting, HART board member Ember Shinn said the rail project has hit a “crisis point” in regards to public confidence.

“We’ve been hit with bad news,” Shinn said, noting the recent audits of the rail project and their subsequent media coverage. “My friends tell me to get off the board because it’s going to go down and get out while you can.”

Under Robbins’ leadership, HART must not only redouble its outreach efforts in support of the project but also set clear goals that measure those efforts’ success, she said

“Otherwise, rail dies,” Shinn said. “It fails.”

HART Board Member Ember Shinn questions the Mayor at Kapolei Hale.
Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board member Ember Shinn said the rail agency has lost public confidence. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The review also found that Robbins “relies too much on outside consultants and without being sufficiently critical or discerning of their work before presenting to Board for decision,” the report said.

It’s similar to a key issue flagged earlier this week in a state Auditor’s report: that HART’s top management continues to rely heavily on third-party consultants who ultimately answer to outside firms and not the city.

Robbins started the job in September 2017, taking over for HART’s interim executive director, Krishniah Murthy, who remains on the project as a key advisor.

Murthy replaced HART’s former executive director, Dan Grabauskas, who resigned under an agreement with the board in August 2016 following nearly two years of dramatic cost spikes and crippling delays.

Grabauskas, who joined HART in 2012, regularly received glowing annual reviews and bonuses until 2015, when the project started to run into serious financial trouble and he opted to forgo a bonus.

Robbins took over HART at a particularly tumultuous time. It remains to be seen whether he’ll ultimately deliver the project within its latest budget and schedule.

On Thursday, board Chairman Damien Kim asked HART’s legal counsel to see whether the board could extend Robbins’ contract an additional three months, which would cover the time they took to complete his review and align his contract with the calendar year.

That extension would allow for Robbins to remain at HART when rail’s planned interim opening to Aloha Stadium is scheduled to happen at the end of 2020, althouigh design flaws in westside stations could push the opening back further.

“We’re just grateful that he’s with us, and working with us, to make this rail a reality,” Shinn said.

Read the evaluation here:

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