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Controversial Raises Prompt Consideration for Voters to Evaluate City Salary System

West Oahu Council Member Andria Tupola (Credits: Civil Beat)

Honolulu is abuzz with the potential for voter intervention in the city’s salary adjustment process for council members. This comes in the wake of considerable public displeasure following a 64% salary increase approved by the Salary Commission in 2023.

The rationale behind the hike was to ensure compensation reflective of full-time work and to attract competent candidates to these roles. Recently, the Salary Commission initiated discussions on a proposed 3% salary increase for city officials, reigniting concerns about the system’s current structure.

West Oahu Council Member Andria Tupola voiced these concerns, labeling the system as flawed and advocating for a more transparent and restricted approach to salary adjustments. Tupola’s proposed City Charter amendment aims to cap any salary increase at 5% per year and mandates council approval for such adjustments.

Republican Andria Tupola (Credits: Hawaii News Now)

Should the council and mayor green-light these changes, it will be up to Honolulu voters in the upcoming November general election to make the final call. Presently, the system allows raises to automatically take effect unless expressly rejected by the council—a stance they took last year, sparking further debate.

Council Chair Tommy Waters, who opted not to push for a vote on last year’s raise, mentioned his discomfort with voting on personal salaries. He suggests that individual council members should have the autonomy to refuse any proposed increases.

Waters, among others who accepted the previous 64% raise, expressed his intention to return any future increase, advocating for personal choice. Mayor Rick Blangiardi, echoing similar sentiments, emphasized the necessity for a solution, acknowledging the awkwardness yet inevitability of addressing salary adjustments.

Waters proposed an alternative where salary increases approved by the council wouldn’t apply until after reelection, mirroring practices at the state level to mitigate conflicts of interest.

Council Member Andria Tupola (Credits: Civil Beat)

The discussions bring to light varying opinions on how best to manage salary adjustments for city officials, with perspectives ranging from maintaining the status quo to requiring active council participation in the decision-making process.

Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii Political Science Professor, and political analyst, disagrees that council voting on salaries is inappropriate, stressing the importance of accountability in such decisions.

The revealing debate and the potential for a public vote alongside council district elections could pose a challenge for council members, particularly those who accepted the previous raise.

The situation underscores the difficult interplay between public opinion, political accountability, and the mechanisms governing salary adjustments for public officials in Honolulu.

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