Is Peter Carlisle an Absentee Mayor or ‘Doing the Business of the City’?

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Mayor Peter Carlisle

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle has been noticeably absent from city council hearings.

Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi has brought up the issue, particularly when the mayor’s own executive budget is being presented to the council for consideration.


“Is the mayor here?” Kobayashi regularly asked at the start of this year’s Spring budget hearings that include executive funding requests. “I would have thought he’d come to his own hearing,” she’d add.

Douglas Chin, Carlisle’s managing director, is typically in attendance, answering for Carlisle and the administration.

Today, Hawaii Reporter asked Carlisle why he hasn’t joined the long tradition of mayors before him who have testified in person before the council, especially when it comes to pleading their case for their budget.

Carlisle said: “I leave that kind of detail to Doug Chin (managing director) and Mike Hansen (finance director) who I believe are well armed to answer the questions. And if anyone has a question about my issues with the budget, they are free to call or stop by.  … I am up here in the office doing the business of the city.”

Carlisle has been criticized in recent months for being unaware of at least one critical decision that the managing director made for the city without the knowledge of his boss. Chin unilaterally lifted the city’s debt ceiling limit in October to accommodate the city’s plan to borrow as much as $1.9 billion to construct a $5.3 billion 20-mile elevated steel on steel rail system. The mayor later admitted neither he, nor the council, knew about the change to the long standing policy.

Former Hawaii Governor and Mayoral opponent Benjamin Cayetano joined Council Chair Ernie Martin and Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi in criticizing Chin for the unilateral action and Carlisle being uninformed.

“The recent admission by City officials that Carlisle was not told about the move to raise the 20 percent debt ceiling set by the City Council to accommodate rail are both signs of disrespect and speak volumes about Carlisle’s inattention to city issues. No person in my cabinet would have done such things without clearing it with me first,” Cayetano said in a previous interview with Hawaii Reporter.

“You don’t want to go above the 20 percent debt ceiling limit because that is borrowed money and has to be paid back through the general fund. You don’t want to have more than 20 percent of the budget going to repay debt,” Kobayashi told Hawaii Reporter.

But Carlisle said he has a different style of management that includes trusting his managing director, who he has worked with since 2006, and his other cabinet members: “This is not an unusual decision. There are big decisions that go on all the time by people who are in every single department. And if you spend your life micromanaging everybody, you are not going to be much of a manager.”

So who is in charge of the city? That is the question Hawaii Reporter asked the mayor when he admitted to being ignorant about the 20 percent debt ceiling waiver.

“We both are (in charge of the city),” Carlisle said then.

His heavy reliance on Chin reemerged today during a press conference, which Carlisle coincidentally scheduled during a council budget hearing that Chin was attending, and as a result, Chin could not be by the mayor’s side.

Just minutes before the mayor’s press conference, Council Chair Ernie Martin lashed out at Chin during the budget hearing about a letter Carlisle sent him on May 4. (see the letter here Letter from Carlisle to Chair Martin)

The letter addressed the council’s plan to cut jobs in the mayor’s administration, including the agricultural liaison position, as well as positions in the culture and arts department and the office of economic development, while adding people to other departments.

In the letter, Carlisle wrote: “It is my position that these proposed amendments constitute an improper attempt by city council to reorganize the executive branch via the budget, in violation of the charter.”

He added: “Moreover, while the FY 12 budget, like the FY 13 budget, deleted salary and current expenses from one agency and made a corresponding appropriation to another, the proposed FY 13 budget amendments also attempted to delete and add positions. This runs afoul of additional charter provisions, which vest only in the mayor the authority to create or abolish positions within the executive branch as provided by law; make temporary transfers of positions between departments or between subdivisions of departments; and assign new duties and functions to departments of the executive branch.

“If the city council does not abide by this interpretation of the law, and nonetheless passes Bill 14 (2012) CD 1 FD 1 in its present form, I will be left to consider my options under law,” Carlisle wrote.

Martin said the letter was “premature”, “disrespectful” and shows the mayor “has no confidence in his staff.”

The Mayor would not comment on Hawaii Reporter’s questions about Martin’s accusations: “I will not discuss that until I receive a full debriefing from Doug (Chin), but I have tremendous confidence in my staff,” Carlisle said.

Star-Advertiser Reporter Gordon Pang pressed the mayor for more information: “Your letter said what the city council did was illegal. You signed that letter.”

Carlisle responded: “I am going to wait and understand exactly what was said, because I was not there when it was discussed, and I will get that from Doug who was there, and then I will respond.”

Hawaii Reporter pressed for more information on the letter itself: “Maybe you can just tell us about the letter – why you felt writing that was important?”

Carlisle said: “The two of them come hand in hand. I am willing to talk about it. …  It may be very soon.”

He added later today via email: “The Budget hearings are ongoing.  I will await the return of the finished Budget on June 6th before I make any further comments.  If any member of the Council wants to speak with me, my door is open.”






  1. Carlisle needs to go back to practicing law because his practicing being a Mayor is killing and embarrassing us.

  2. Chin was his toadie when he was the prosecutor and he’s his toadie now. The mayor has proven time and again that he has no business being the mayor of Honolulu. He’s better off working for the Travel Chanel. He’s experienced in that. What does Chin know about managing a city? How would Carlisle know what micromanaging is when he doesn’t even know what’s going on in his own office. He doesn’t attend his own hearings and can’t even answer to a letter that HE wrote. He’s got to go!

  3. I see him out at clubs all the time at “social events”….interesting he has time for that but not city council meetings. But then again I have always heard he was a big nightclub hound!

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