BY JIM DOOLEY – Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration and Honolulu City Council members have less than six weeks to decide whether to accept pay raises awarded to them by the City Salary Commission.
The commission told the Council April 27 it has granted 3 per cent pay raises to most City elected and appointed officials and slightly higher increases to top brass in the Police and Fire Departments.
The raises are meant to correct or partially correct pay disparities which in many departments have resulted in civil service underlings receiving higher annual salaries than directors and deputy directors.
The commission’s decision was made over the objections of the Carlisle administration, which cited ongoing fiscal difficulties facing the city. Granting executive pay raises would also complicate ongoing contract negotiations the City is conducting with labor unions, Managing Director Douglas Chin told the Salary Commission.
“If raises are approved for the mayor and his top leaders, the unions may ask, how can the administration take the position that its civil servants should be subject to a pay reduction?” Chin said in a letter to the commission.
“This is a highly sensitive issue now and I am concerned your decisions might complicate matters during a critical time,” Chin wrote.
Many rank-and-file City workers have accepted five per cent pay cuts and the mayor is still negotiating similar contracts with others, including police officers and firefighters.
The raises will take effect July 1 unless three-quarters of the City Council (seven of nine members) vote against them.
“The Mayor is currently evaluating his position … and may ask his executives, who currently have taken a 5% voluntary pay cut, to continue with the pay cut, decline the salary commission raise or some other combination,” Managing Director Douglas Chin said in a written statement to Hawaii Reporter.
Council Budget Committee chair Ann Kobayashi said, “I think we would vote to reject the pay raises.”
Council Chair Ernie Martin did not respond to a request for comment.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and Fire Chief Kenneth Silva, alone among City department heads, didn’t take the voluntary 5% per cent cut last year and have actively sought additional pay raises from the Salary Commission.
They have argued to the Salary Commission that careers in the Police and Fire Departments, and service as chiefs, are significantly different from work in other city departments.
“The police chief as well as the deputy chiefs are career-sworn officers of the HPD as opposed to most city Cabinet-level positions,” Asst. Chief Mark Nakagawa said in official HPD testimony to the commission in February. (see the hpd letter)
Silva spoke for himself, telling the commission: “Public safety administrators differ from other department directors, as they were hired by their department as recruits years ago and over the course of their careers, attained experience and knowledge which propelled them into their current positions.” (see the silva letter)
The two chiefs are appointed by the Police and Fire Commissions while “other department directors are elected or appointed by the incoming City administration,” Silva said.
Right now, Kealoha and Silva are receiving $136,236 per year – more than any other city executive position except Chief Medical Examiner, whose salary was set last year at $200,016 because of the difficulty in recruiting qualified applicants.
Mayor Carlisle is entitled to a slightly higher salary than the police and fire chiefs, $136,428, but he has waived 15 per cent of that amount and collects $115,964 now.
The head of the Board of Water Supply is entitled to $140,004 but has waived five per cent of his salary and is paid $133,044.
Kealoha and Silva also argued that they and their chief deputies are underpaid when compared with counterparts in similarly-sized Mainland cities. And they receive significantly less than subordinate executives in their own departments whose salaries are tied to civil service pay schedules, they said.
Those disparities have caused problems in recruiting and retaining qualified personnel for the top public safety posts in city government, the chiefs said.
Five Police Department executive officers are paid more than Kealoha, including two receiving $144,312 annually – a 5.93 per cent differential.
The same disparities hold true in the Fire Department.
But in a lengthy presentation to the Salary Commission in January, Managing Director Chin pointed out that the same pay disparities exist at the top levels of 13 other City departments, where nearly three dozen workers make more money than their top bosses. salary analysis
In six departments, some underlings make from 7 to 19 per cent more than directors or deputy directors, Chin said.
But Salary Commissioners this year decided that raises were justified, ordering 5.5 per cent bumps for Kealoha ($143,729) and his deputies ($137,082).
Raises of 4 per cent were awarded to Silva ($141,685) and his deputies (135,133).
Managing Director Chin said Mayor Carlisle disagreed with the raises but was not officially
Kealoha today declined comment on the pay raise issue. Silva said he appreciates the commission’s work and believes “the recommendation is reasonable.”
The commission vote was led by chairman Jim Donovan, head of the University of Hawaii Athletic Department, and member Lee Donohue a retired HPD Chief, according to minutes of meetings. The two men noted that the increases still would leave some lesser executives in each department better-paid than their leaders.
City Council members would see their salaries rise from $52,456 to $54,019; Martin’s pay as chairman would go from $58,596 to $60,354.
At Carlisle’s request, the commission did not award a mayoral pay raise.
The mayor this week declined to comment on whether the Commission-ordered raises could have any effect on collective bargaining talks.