Two measures would ban council members from having other jobs in a move aimed at ensuring they focus all their attention on the public’s business.

Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters and council member Esther Kiaaina introduced two measures on Thursday that would prohibit council members from engaging in outside employment, a change that would effectively recognize council work as being a full-time commitment.

This comes after the Honolulu Salary Commission’s controversial decision to increase council members’ wages from $68,904 to $113,304 as well as Waters’ decision to allow the increase to kick in without a vote in the chamber.

Opponents of the raise often say that council work isn’t full time, an argument that these measures would address. 

“I found out from day one of my first year that it is not a part-time job, and I have been working full-time hours,” said Kiaaina, who added that she’s been thinking about this dynamic since before the salary commission’s recommendation.

Honolulu City Council member Esther Kiaaina during hearing on historic preservation.commission Bill 44.
During a phone interview, Honolulu City Council member Esther Kiaaina spoke emphatically about the job’s round-the-clock expectations. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The two measures are identical to one another in substance: both would ban council members from working for outside pay and from maintaining a controlling interest in a company. 

The only difference is that one measure was introduced as a bill while the other was introduced as a resolution calling for a charter amendment.  

Charter amendments are legally stronger, harder to change, and require voter approval, meaning that the measure wouldn’t take effect until at least the 2024 general election. Meanwhile, the council could pass Bill 33 itself to revise the city ordinances. 

Most council members report having some form of outside compensation or business interests on their financial disclosures, including Waters and Kiaaina, though Kiaaina said that she stopped taking a salary from her consulting service this year after deciding it was “unsustainable” to continue that in addition to council duties. 

Council members Radiant Cordero, Matt Weyer and Val Okimoto report no outside interests besides the jobs the latter two held as city planner and state representative, respectively.

Council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam reports having a communications consultancy but said in a text that he stopped that after being elected last fall.

Waters maintains his own private law practice, and council member Andria Tupola reports her own consulting service.

Disclosure sheets don’t request exact dollar amounts – instead opting for a range – and these two council members list outside incomes between $50,000 and $100,000. Tupola also reports receiving between $1,000 and $9,999 for her services with Venture Upward, a nonprofit that helps parents craft homeschool curriculums for their children.

Council member Calvin Say reports two sources of income, each between $10,000 and $24,999. 

And council member Augie Tulba reports receiving between $25,000 and $49,999 for his gig as a radio host.

Tulba and Tupola rejected the proposed salary commission’s recommendation for a pay raise through their introduction of resolution 23-82, though no other council members have publicly spoken against it. To prevent the raise, that resolution would need five more members to sign on. Waters hasn’t scheduled the resolution for a hearing. 

Waters is so far the most vocal council member to publicly support the proposed increase, a move that shields other council members from public blowback. In an emailed statement, Say offered his support, while acknowledging community members’ frustrations.

“I have shared that I am in support of a salary increase, and, as the Council has a 2-term limit, I believe this increase will help to make the position more viable for future candidates,” he wrote.

He also mentioned the two measures that would prohibit outside employment, writing that they “emphasize the full-time nature of the Councilmembers’ role, which I feel aligns with the time and focus that this position requires in order to fully address and respond to our residents’ needs.”

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