The Sunshine Blog: Recall Rumors Amid Honolulu Pay Hike Uproar

Snapshots, outtakes, observations, and other things to know about public information, government accountability, and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

The Nuclear Option: It was nestled somewhere in the middle of the 93 (and counting) reader comments on our Sunday report on Tommy Waters championing the big raises he and his fellow Honolulu City Council members are likely to receive soon.

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Wait until the next election,’” the commenter wrote. “But if people are really upset and don’t want to wait for the next election, remember that you can start your own recall petition at any time.”

Even a failed recall effort “could be enough to scare some board members into serious doubt about accepting this ill-conceived raise,” the commenter concluded.

Honolulu City Council Speaker Tommy Waters speaks during the session.
Honolulu City Council Speaker Tommy Waters has not been shy about pushing for council pay increases. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Understand, The Sunshine Blog is not agitating for such a rebellion. In fact, we are impressed with the President of the City Council for speaking out in favor of wage increases.

We want to hear what other board members who haven’t been so bold have to say about them. Waters is a yes, of course. Augie Tulba and Andria Tupola are strong without votes.

The Silent Six are Calvin Say, Esther Kiaaina, Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Matt Weyer, Val Okimoto, and Radiant Cordero.

Many of your constituents are very excited about impending council pay increases of more than 60%. And if some of them want to play with the nuclear option (like the follow-up commenter who wrote: “Let’s do it! Where do I sign?”), we have no problem explaining how it works.

Hawaii’s four county governments have recall provisions in their charters, but do not make it easy to remove elected leaders. At least they provide the opportunity: voters don’t have that power to remove state officials. Grrrr.

In the city and county of Honolulu, recall supporters would be required to collect signatures from registered voters in each affected council district totaling at least 10% of the number of registered voters in that district in their last election.

Those exact numbers were not immediately available from the City Clerk’s Office this week, but it provided current voter-registered totals for all nine wards. Based on them, the signature requirements to initiate a recall would range from around 5,000 in District 7 to around 8,000 in District 4 (which happens to be Waters’ territory).

Collecting that many signatures from people who are not only registered voters but also reside in the appropriate council district would be a difficult task. If the supporters thought they had been successful, they would deliver the petition to the clerk’s office, which would have 20 business days to assess the validity of the signatures.

If the petition was certified, the elected official in question would have 10 days to voluntarily resign. Barring that, a recall election would take place 30 to 90 days later, with a simple majority vote required to remove the official.

A recall petition against the mayor of Honolulu, by the way, would require almost 55,000 signatures from registered voters.

Far fewer valid signatures are needed to initiate impeachment hearings against the mayor (5,000) or council members (1,000). But the courts, not the voters, would decide whether the official had committed “embezzlement, misappropriation, or default” in office.

We doubt that a judge would apply any of those terms of practicality to the act of accepting raises proposed by the Honolulu Wage Commission.

A full-time Council still working in the moonlight: Waters argues that the increases would be a long-overdue adjustment that reflects the fact that serving on the board is no longer a part-time job. He would like to see full-time status confirmed, preferably in a future charter change, and even he is interested in eventually banning council members from holding other jobs.

A check of their latest financial disclosures on the Honolulu Ethics Commission website indicates that for at least part of the past year, seven of the nine earned income from other jobs while serving on the board. Kirstin Downey of Civil Beat took a closer look at their finances and lifestyles in February and found that council members are generally typical middle-class Hawaiians struggling to stay solvent.

The Salary Commission approved much lower but still significant increases for the mayor, elected and appointed department heads and their deputies.

The Salary Commission wants to increase council pay by 64.4% from $68,904 to $113,292. The president’s salary would rise 60.2% from $76,968 to $123,292.

The increases would take effect automatically unless stopped by the council, but it would take seven of the nine members to do so.

And as much as Waters would like her colleagues not to have to talk about the raises, they will almost certainly come June 7, when the council will have to decide whether to earmark money for higher salaries in the fiscal year. budget 2024.

The Salary Commission approved much lower but still significant increases of 12.56% for the mayor, elected and appointed department heads and their deputies.

Of course, no one has been pretending that those are part-time jobs.

New kid in the neighborhood: Join your Sunshine Bloggers in wishing a joyous aloha to Camron Hurt, who will be joining the good fight as Common Cause Hawaii’s Program Manager.

Hurt will focus on voter protection and expanding access to the polls, increasing government transparency and making big money out of Hawaiian politics, according to a news release from the organization.

Hurt is more or less replacing Sandy Ma, who left the organization a few months ago. She was an executive director and he will be a program manager.

But as Heather Ferguson, director of state operations for Common Cause, said in the press release: “After this year’s legislative session, it’s clear that the islands need a guardian of democracy now more than ever.”