Lori Kahikina was praised for cutting staff and costs last year, but urged to do more to attract and retain employees.

An annual evaluation of rail authority CEO Lori Kahikina praised her success in winning federal approval of a recovery plan for the scaled-down Honolulu rail project, but faulted her for her relationship with the board of directors that oversees the project.

The board declared in the evaluation that Kahikina’s performance and leadership was “satisfactory” during 2022, but urged her to do more to attract and retain staff, and to “continue developing a collaborative relationship with all Board members.”

The first phase of the long-delayed rail project is due to open to the public on Friday.

The overall assessment of Kahikina is based on sometimes contradictory input from 11 board members for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, but the bottom line was the board declined to reward her with a bonus.

HART CEO Lori Kahikina listens to the HART chair during a board meeting held at Alii Place.
HART Executive Director and CEO Lori Kahikina, shown here at a board meeting last year, said she would not have accepted a bonus for her work last year even if the board had offered one. It did not, but the board ranked her performance and leadership last year as “satisfactory.” (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022).

By contract the board could have offered Kahikina a bonus of up to $55,000, or 20% of her annual $275,000 salary.

The evaluation explained that “due to fiscal austerity, as well as some members’ positions regarding the award of bonuses to government employees in the current financial climate, the Board elects not to award a bonus.”

Kahikina said in an interview Thursday she would not have accepted a bonus anyway because the rail project needs to curb its spending. “Now is not the right time,” she said.

She declined to accept a $25,000 bonus last year for her first year on the job.

She noted she is paid less than the two men who last held the job of executive director of HART. They included Andrew Robbins, who was paid a $317,000 annual salary plus a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200 transportation allowance; and Daniel Grabauskas, who was paid $245,000 plus annual allowances of $6,000 for transportation and $36,000 for housing. They each received at least one bonus.

Kahikina said the rankings of her performance by board members essentially gave her a grade of “C-” overall. “I had hoped I had done better, but it’s not my opinion that matters, it’s their opinion,” she said.

The board of directors voted on the evaluation on June 23 but didn’t disclose the contents. HART then released the contents to the media after a request from Civil Beat.

The evaluation noted that “some members said that greater deference could be paid to the Board of Directors in Ms. Kahikina’s communication and interactions with the Board.” Some also suggested she should do more to encourage board members’ participation in HART events, including senior staff briefings.

Kahikina noted the HART board meets twice a month, and senior staff attend those meetings, “but maybe they want more staff.” HART staff meet biweekly with the mayor and city transportation officials. HART Board Chair Colleen Hanabusa also attends those meetings, she said.

Kahikina said she plans to ask board members to clarify for her what is expected so she is “crystal clear what they want from me so I can hit those marks.”

On the other hand, the evaluation included comments praising Kahikina’s leadership skills. One commended her leadership style, stating that after “terminating about half of the employees at HART, Lori has recruited a qualified and capable team to lead the agency.”

Rail project cost overruns forced the city last year to adopt a new plan to halt construction at Halekauwila and South Streets, reducing the length of the rail line from 20 miles to 18.9 miles.

City officials still aim to someday extend rail to Ala Moana Center as originally planned, but HART does not have the funding to do so now. The current budget for the project is $9.933 billion.

Kahikina is working under a two-year contract that will be automatically extended for a third year unless the board votes to remove her.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author