It’s official – Daniel Grabauskas is now the highest paid city employee. The former chairman and senior strategic adviser of the Bronner Center for Transportation Management and former general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was confirmed today by the city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation executive board as its chief executive officer and executive director.
Grabauskas’ three-year contract, which begins in mid-April, offers an annual salary of $245,000, along with other perks that include a $36,000 yearly housing allowance and an $6,000 transportation allowance. The total compensation package of $861,000 could rise to as high as $966,000 because it includes a $35,000 annual performance bonus.
The HART board said in a statement its members contacted 150 people since November 2011 before selecting Grabauskas, who in his new position will oversee the construction, operation and maintenance of the city’s planned $5.2 billion rail project.
In a written statement, Grabauskas said: “I am humbled to be selected as HART executive director and I am fully committed to helping bring this project to reality. I want to thank the HART board for its support and I look forward to working with the HART staff as we continue moving forward.”
“Dan Grabauskas has shown himself to be a proven leader in the transit industry and we are very excited to see him come aboard at this time,” said Keslie Hui, chairman of the HART board’s Human Resources Committee, said the board believes Grabauskas is an “honorable public servant, passionate about public transportation in general and our project in particular, and he is fully committed to using his considerable knowledge, skills and experience to delivering rail to the people of Honolulu, on time, and within budget.”
The HART board was criticized for its handling of the Grabauskas nomination because of its lack of transparency.
Originally, HART’s board did not plan to accept testimony on the nomination, but after taking substantial criticism, HART released a statement it would vote on March 1 after taking public testimony at the Mission Memorial Annex Conference Room. However, there was no public debate or discussion on whether Grabauskas would be chosen – he was the only candidate.
Former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, who has been an opponent to the city’s plan to build a $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail system from Kapolei to Honolulu, noted: “There is a great deal of distrust of HART among the public. HART’s reversal of policy is largely due to pressure by the public and news media reports.”
In addition, Grabauskas refused to meet with Honolulu city council members before his confirmation even as a courtesy call, said City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi.
Grabauskas, who now heads a semi autonomous agency that is supposed to take politics out of the planned 20 mile elevated steel on steel rail project, has had his share of political battles in the past.
Jim Stergios of the Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute said: “Dan Grabauskas built a reputation as a reform agent while in charge of the state’s Registry of Motor vehicles. He was then tapped to serve as Gov. Romney’s secretary of transportation and later as the head of the state’s transit system.
“After the election of Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, Dan stood out as a rare Republican in a Democratic administration. (Grabauskas had previously also run as a Republican candidate for state treasurer.) There was quite a lot of tension with the governor’s office, and when Gov. Patrick began a concerted effort to take control of all of the state’s public authorities, the antagonism just grew more evident.”
As chief executive officer of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Grabauskas managed $1.4 billion operation with a 6,100 employees and a jurisdiction that included 175 municipalities throughout eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. His work also included completion of several capital expansion projects, including an 18-mile commuter rail line.
When Grabauskas served as Secretary of Transportation for the state of Massachusetts, he oversaw MBTA, highways and municipal airports with a budget of $1.4-billion and a capital budget of $1.8 billion.
Grabauskas’ job could be short lived, depending on what happens with a lawsuit pending in federal court and the mayoral election.
Former Gov. Cayetano, who is opposed to the rail project, is a candidate for mayor and is ahead of both Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and former City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell in a recent mayoral election media poll. Public support for the rail project is also fading, the same poll showed.
In addition, Cayetano and six other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the rail project on the basis of its negative impact to the environment and cultural and historical sites. Other plaintiffs include retired Judge Walter Heen, Retired Businessman Cliff Slater, University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth, Sen. Sam Slom’s Small Business Hawaii Education Foundation, Dr. Michael Uechi and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends. Should Cayetano win the election, he maintains he will stop the train from being built. If the plaintiffs win the lawsuit, they will likely force the city to redo its Environmental Impact Statement that says rail is the best choice for Honolulu’s transportation needs. That could ultimately kill the project.