Honolulu Council Member Augie Tulba: A 64% Pay Raise Is Absurd, And That’s No Joke - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Richard Wiens

Richard Wiens is an editor at large for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at rwiens@civilbeat.org.

The City Council member who also works as a radio personality and stand-up comedian talks about balancing all those gigs.

Long before he was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 2020, Augie Tulba said he was striving to “lead by example” as an entertainer. He points to this as the reason he opposed recent pay raises that the council allowed to take effect without a direct vote.

In an interview with Civil Beat that’s been edited for length and clarity, he also argues that no matter how hard they work for their constituents, council members should be able to hold other jobs.

It’s been a few weeks since the City Council meeting that turned into a public forum about the 64% council pay raises. How are you feeling about the issue of the pay raises now?

For me, it was morally wrong. This leads to a lot of distrust in government.

I’m not a politician, I’m a public servant. And I committed to this position because I wanted to make a difference in my community. And sitting in council for three years, you see the needs of the public.

I just got back from a rental relief program, probably the biggest one they’ve had. And for me it was just the obvious. You know, you ask for little things in your community. You ask if grass can be cut in your parks? Not enough manpower.

I’m a fiscal conservative. I look at the (city) budget kind of like I look at my own budget. People think I make all this money and I don’t. I’ve worked hard all my life. Sent my kids to school, college. I’m not going to spend beyond my needs.

I’ve been asking for stuff. We have so many needs in the community. We cannot find incentives so that we can have police officers. People in my community, you know what they want? They want a safer place to live. They want to be able to provide for their family. They’re working two, three jobs just like me.

  • A Special Commentary Project

I just always felt like in my life as an entertainer, a father, that I had to lead by example. That’s how you bring trust. That’s how you get people to believe in you.

It was easy for me to say no, because I understand the pulse of my community. I understand that people are still struggling. So morally for me, it was right not to do it and to fight. Why do we have to rush to 64%? What that’s looking like for me is, if I think I deserve 64%, then go sell it to your community. But I could not sell 64% to a community that’s still struggling.

Jack James, who was involved in your campaign in 2020, is now organizing a recall effort against seven council members. Do you support that effort?

I cannot tell people what they can and cannot do. Jack and I had a relationship. Mind you, when I decided to run, I had no idea what I was doing.

So he did his job at that time, and then I felt like I needed to go in a different direction. He has his beliefs, I have mine, and I cannot stop anybody from doing what they want to do.

So you’re not really taking a stand, yes or no, on the recall effort?

Yeah, because that’s his thinking, that’s not mine. My thinking is 64% is wrong. You know, I think we should have done it in increments. I think we’ve got to change the way we do things with the salary commission and how we approach salary in the future. And how are we going to make sure that we’re always transparent?

I am trying to build trust with people. You know, people already question the fact that I’m a comedian. And what does that have to do with my heart and my service to the community?

Have you spoken with James about the recall effort since it started?

The last time I saw him was when he announced that at City Council.

You also spoke out against the proposal to prohibit council members from having outside employment. Setting aside your personal situation for a moment with your work in radio and as a comedian, why in general, do you think council members should be allowed to hold other jobs?

Banning council members from having outside employment or businesses does not require council members to work full time at the City Council. No measures were put in place to ensure council members are working 40 hours a week. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. Let’s go have a discussion first.

Banning outside employment creates a dependency on local government. I think that would lead to larger salary increases in the future. Banning outside employment promotes career politicians.

Council member Augie Tulba voices his opposition to both the 64% pay raises for Council members and a proposal to prohibit members from outside employment during a June 7 meeting. (Screenshot/2023)

People who are concerned about the community, love the community, should run. Not to make career politicians.

As long as a council member is not breaking the law and participating in unethical conduct, it’s not my place to concern myself with his or her activities outside City Council.

I went and I asked what I can and cannot say. So when you listen to my radio show in the morning, there’s a disclaimer. And I don’t talk politics because it helps balance my life. Believe it or not, when I do comedy, there’s a disclaimer. So I did everything I thought was right, ethically, so that I could continue to do my job as a radio guy and as an entertainer.

Would you describe your council work in general as a full-time job?

I think we do a lot. You know, it’s hard for me to answer that question. I will tell you why. Because I always had two or three jobs.

I can tell you that I spend more time in my community than I’ve ever done. I wake up every morning thinking about my community. I go to all the neighborhood board meetings. I missed one, a special meeting last week because I was with my family in Texas.

So yes, this is full time. But that’s what I decided to do.

You cannot hide behind a salary commission, even though the law allows you.

My job as an entertainer has always been, I have to go above and beyond to stay relevant in people’s eyes. So for me. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It’s hard work. We work a lot. We get calls 24 hours a day. But that’s what we decided to do.

There were also concerns about the pay raise issue not playing out as openly as a lot of people thought that it should. How do you feel about that?

Well, obviously, I was trying to get a discussion to happen. I sent a memo. I said, “I need five signatures. If you think you deserve the raise, let the people yell at you.”

I was told that coming into this position, you’re going to have to answer the hard questions. And this was a hard question to answer. You cannot hide behind a salary commission, even though the law allows you. They make the recommendation, you shut up and you will say nothing and it goes into effect. Is that right? Maybe we need to change that because I don’t think it’s right.

So the council chair said it would be a conflict of interest for council members to vote on their own pay raises. Do you not buy that?

How can you buy that? That’s people’s money. I mean, we’re hiding behind a recommendation. Look, you know how easy it is to say no or yes. Four times council members have turned down (salary) recommendations. So what’s the difference between them and us?

Moving beyond the pay raise issue, would you say that in general the council does a pretty good job of conducting its business openly during your time there?

Yeah. Everybody on council has the right heart. But what I’ve learned in the last two years, we don’t do enough to educate the public.

That’s why I’ve decided to run again because I feel like I have something to say, and I feel like there’s a lot more that needs to be done. A lot of it, for me, is I’ve always tried to be transparent.

Honolulu City Council members at work. Tulba says it’s a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to hold outside employment as well. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Is the council in general abiding by the Sunshine Law?

Yeah, we are. We have conducted ourselves the way we should conduct ourselves. The City Council, I respect every single one of them there. I respect the chair for allowing members to speak their mind and then have that debate.

You know, I just think for me personally, we’ve just got to do a better job at educating the public because that is their money.

You said during the 2020 campaign that your biggest issues were public safety and traffic congestion. Has some progress been made on those issues in the last two and a half years since you’ve been on the council?

Well, we gave the police a little bit more money in this budget so we can have more patrol officers. I think we need to do a better job at it, because public safety is still the No. 1 issue in my community.

What about traffic congestion? Any progress?

Oh, it’s still the same. We need to work harder at that. I know you guys are doing a story on bus changes so that people can get along on the rail, right? I haven’t gotten that many complaints yet, but yeah, it’s still a problem. We know that when schools out, traffic is a lot lighter.

When are we going to take building on my side of the island serious? How do we get people to come on my side? Get people off the streets.

I’m trying to push a bill to incentivize film and building a film studio on the West Side, the Ewa Coast. They can create a lot of great jobs for the people on my side of the island. Maybe they won’t need to drive into town.

What other issues do you find yourself focusing on?

As the chair of the Parks Committee, I’m really working hard to make sure that our parks are clean and promoting the Adopt a Park program that hasn’t been implemented for a while now.

I walk on stage, they do a disclaimer. Things that you could hear on stage are not a reflection of the city.

Those are things that I’m very passionate about because I grew up in public housing and the Parks and Rec helped me thrive. I would not be talking to you if I hadn’t had a boxing gym to go to train, learn discipline.

I have a bunch. Property tax relief to homeowners in a way that still balances the budgets. Affordable housing and providing the right incentives for developers. Finding solutions for the landfill site.

There’s a YouTube video of you on a mainland tour as a stand-up comedian joking about homeless people in Hawaii, that that’s where you want to be homeless because of the weather. And the idea of giving homeless people Bluetooth devices: “That way when they’re walking around talking to themselves — gotta look legit, man.” These are things that a Honolulu council member might not normally joke about, right?

Right. Yeah. So, that special was filmed before I got elected. It was a routine that I was doing prior to being a council member. I think it’s a lot harder to write comedy right now after three years of being in there and then understanding the rules. Right? Understanding, you know, my responsibility.

But I’m never going to erase anything I’ve done in my past because it was never malicious. It’s observation. And council members are people, too. We laugh at the same things everybody else laughs at.

How do you approach these dual roles, elected leader and comedian? Can you completely compartmentalize them, keep them apart?

If you followed my career for 30 years, I basically talk about my family. There’s all these different types of comedy, and I’ve always felt like mine was self-deprecating. I always pick on me first or my family before I pick on anybody else.

Augie Tulba performing as comedian Augie T in Utah. (Screenshot)

It’s harder to write now because prior to being elected, I only saw gray areas. There’s no black and white for comics. It’s a gray area. You talk about everything and anything, because comedy is a reflection, a mirror of society. When you see a problem, you try to find light in that. And humor.

Making tough decisions, sitting at council, disagree, agree, can bring a lot of stress. And for me jumping on stage on a weekend really helps balance my life. And I say that with all sincerity.

Have you ever gotten any material for your standup from what you’ve seen as a council member?

That will happen when I’m done doing politics. I’m going to have the most amazing book, the most amazing routine.

I follow the law. The Ethics (Commission) told me that I cannot talk policy, I cannot do certain things, and I respect that. That’s why there’s a disclaimer. I walk on stage, they do a disclaimer. Things that you could hear on stage are not a reflection of the city.

Right after the pay raise debate, I walk on stage and it’s a decent-size audience of dads because it was a Father’s Day brunch show. And I say, “I know you guys want me to talk about the 64% raises. I’m not going to do that.”

It’s got to be a little frustrating to not be able to use that material for now.

Right. But I think comedy prepared me for what I’m doing right now. Me being an ex-professional fighter helped prepare me for right now because this is a very honorable position.

I get it. People may rely on you to uphold a standard, right? And I always need to be respectful when I’m on stage. I’m always going to be aware of my surroundings.

I’m not perfect. Never, ever claim to be perfect. But, you know, I think I’m balancing it correctly right now.

Read this next:

Ban On Fundraisers? Hawaii Legislators Continued To Rake In Campaign Cash During Session

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Richard Wiens

Richard Wiens is an editor at large for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at rwiens@civilbeat.org.

Latest Comments (0)

If a council person is doing their job, they spend a minimum of 40 hours and up to 60 or more to get it done right, namely, representing their District and the city. There is not an employer in any industry that would allow their professional staff to hold part-time positions. Why would it be allowed for one of the most important professional jobs in the city? I want my council member working full-time for me and getting paid a living wage for doing it. I think Tommy Waters is just trying to make the city Council a professional organization.

manetta48 · 1 month ago

Augie should be the next mayor and run again four year later. He deserves to our mayor for eight years. He may finally the one who is unafraid to bring sanity back to our city government who has been on a spending spree for far too long.

CPete · 1 month ago

Three things1) more candidates will submit to replace existing council members. Some for public service and now more for the money (as a career).2) things would have been different if the council took public sentiment into consideration and votes to phase in the salary increases. That would have been a reasonable approach and to respect the public’s outrage.3) each council persons have a budget for full time staff that does most of the meaningful work. Council members made decisions to work part time to fulfill their obligations to the voters. 4) Now sunshine (CB) should review each council members calendars for the next six months to judge where their FULL time is being spent, for effective work. ….not just for going on junkets to study and enjoy research trips. Seek accountability

OBIKNOBI · 1 month ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.