The Sunshine Blog: Rumblings Of Recall Amid Honolulu Pay Raise Uproar - Honolulu Civil Beat

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The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

The nuclear option: It was nestled somewhere in the middle of the 93 (and counting) reader comments about our Sunday report on Tommy Waters defending the big raises that he and his fellow Honolulu City Council members are likely to receive soon.

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Wait till next election,’” the commenter wrote. “But if folks are really upset & don’t want to wait for the next election, remember that you can start your own recall petition at any time.”

Even an unsuccessful recall effort “could be enough to scare a few council members into having serious second thoughts about accepting this ill-conceived pay raise,” the commenter concluded.

Honolulu City Council chair Tommy Waters speaks during session.
Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters hasn’t been shy about pushing for Council pay raises. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Understand, The Sunshine Blog is not agitating for such a rebellion. We’re actually impressed with the City Council chair for speaking out openly for the pay hikes.

We do want to hear what other council members who have not been so bold have to say about them. Waters is a yes, of course. Augie Tulba and Andria Tupola are strong no votes.

The Silent Six are Calvin Say, Esther Kiaaina, Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Matt Weyer, Val Okimoto and Radiant Cordero.

A lot of their constituents are plenty hot about the looming council pay raises of more than 60%. And if some of them want to toy with the nuclear option (like the follow-up commenter who wrote, “Let’s do it! Where do I sign?”), we’ve got no problem with explaining how it works.

All four of Hawaii’s county governments have recall provisions in their charters, but they don’t make it easy to oust elected leaders. At least they provide the chance — voters have no such power to recall statewide officials. Grrrr.

In the City and County of Honolulu, recall supporters would have to collect signatures from registered voters in each affected council district totaling up to at least 10% of the number of registered voters in that district at its last election.

Those exact numbers weren’t immediately available from the Office of the City Clerk this week, but it did provide the current registered voter totals for all nine districts. Based on them, the signature requirements to launch a recall would vary from about 5,000 in District 7 to about 8,000 in District 4 (which happens to be Waters’ stomping grounds).

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Collecting that many signatures from people who are not only registered voters but reside in the appropriate council district would be a tall task. If supporters thought they had succeeded, they’d turn the petition over to the clerk’s office, which would have 20 working days to assess the validity of the signatures.

If the petition was certified, the targeted elected official would then have 10 days to voluntarily resign. Barring that, a recall election would be held 30 to 90 days later, with a simple majority of votes required to oust the official.

A recall petition against the Honolulu mayor, by the way, would require almost 55,000 signatures of registered voters.

Far fewer valid signatures are needed to initiate impeachment hearings against the mayor (5,000) or council members (1,000). But the courts, not the voters, would decide if the official had committed “malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance” in office.

We doubt a judge would apply any of those feasance terms to the act of accepting raises proposed by the Honolulu Salary Commission.

A full-time-ish Council that still moonlights: Waters contends the raises would be a long-overdue adjustment reflecting the fact that serving on the council is no longer a part-time job. He’d like the full-time status confirmed, preferably in a future charter change, and is even interested in eventually prohibiting council members from holding other jobs.

A check of their latest financial disclosures on the Honolulu Ethics Commission website indicates that for at least part of last year, seven of nine earned income from other work while serving on the council. Civil Beat’s Kirstin Downey took a closer look at their finances and lifestyles in February and found council members to generally be typical middle-class Hawaii residents who scramble to stay solvent.

Much lower but still significant raises were approved by the Salary Commission for the mayor, elected and appointed department heads and their deputies.

The Salary Commission wants to increase council pay 64.4% from $68,904 to $113,292. The chair’s salary would rise 60.2% from $76,968 to $123,292.

The raises would automatically take effect unless the council stops them, but it would take seven of nine members to do that.

And as much as Waters would like his colleagues not to have to talk about the raises, they’re almost certain to come up June 7, when the council will have to decide if it is going to put money for higher pay in the fiscal year 2024 budget.

Much-lower but still significant raises of 12.56% were approved by the Salary Commission for the mayor, elected and appointed department heads and their deputies.

Of course, nobody has been pretending that those are part-time jobs.

New kid on the block: Please join your Sunshine Bloggers in wishing a cheery aloha to Camron Hurt, who is joining the good fight as program manager for Common Cause Hawaii.

Hurt will focus on election protection and expanding access to the polls, increasing government transparency, and getting big money out of Hawaii politics, according to a press release from the organization.

Hurt is more or less replacing Sandy Ma, who left the organization a few months ago. She was executive director and he’ll be program manager.

But as Heather Ferguson, the director of state operations for Common Cause, said in the press release: “After this year’s legislative session, it’s clear that the islands are in need of a democracy watchdog now more than ever.”

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

There are pro's and con's for either full-time work or part-time work. Pay these elected officials by the hour w/o overtime limits while their hours are logged and made public. Shoot, that could be a campaign promise! Let's remember "who works for who" and hold elected officials accountable.

Panda · 6 months ago

Tommy Waters and his Silent Six owe the public transparency on where they stand on the 64% raise. Tommy Waters has argued that they shouldn't vote on the raise because in the real world, "employees don't get to decide what their salary will be." He's right. Employers decide what they are willing to pay their employees. Tommy Waters needs to be reminded that the salary commission is not his employer. The council members were "hired" by the voters. That makes the voters the employer. If Tommy Waters wants to do things like they are done in the real world, the council's employer, aka the public, should decide on the council members' salaries. Let the voters decide how much council members should be paid.

aiea808 · 6 months ago

The raises might make sense if they were doing a good job of maintaining the city. But they are not doing a good job. The roads are terrible, homeless all over the place, trash and weeds abound, parks and facilities in disrepair and let's not forget the rail debacle. If city politicians were doing a better job, then maybe the raises would be justified.

toonman · 6 months ago

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